With Fear & Trembling — Mormonism Isn’t Christian

With fear and trembling I offer this post. First off, I want to make it clear that this is not my battle. I’m not overly interested in pushing this conversation or convincing LDS of my point of view. But I do seek greater understanding and I want to find a way to explain myself clearly.

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Evangelicals and Mormons often squabble over a battle on whether or not Mormonism is Christian. There’s no doubt in my mind that Mormonism definitely belongs to Christianity, it didn’t come out of Hinduism, Buddhism or any other major religion. But the question is, at what point does a faith change a major religion’s core tenets so drastically that it no longer resembles its birth religion.

Mormons do not understand how the rest of Christianity can claim that Mormonism is not Christian. I wonder if this might be more helpful in explaining our (the non-LDS) viewpoint? My recent post on “Worshiping Jesus” pointed out that there doesn’t seem to be a universal Mormon understanding on whether or not Jesus is to be worshiped as God (capital G). Instead (many) Mormons exclusively worship the Father and hold Jesus as one of many gods (small g).

I would contend that historically and traditionally, Christians have always recognized Jesus as God (capital G) and have always worshiped him as such. To worship Christ is to be Christian. If someone does not worship Christ as God how can they properly be called “Christian”? In as much as MormonISM does not teach people to worship Christ as God it is not a Christian religion.

There are some Mormons who do worship Christ as God, I’m content to say that they are Christian (though heretical). But Mormons who do not worship Christ as God are no more Christian than Muslims (who recognize and revere Jesus as an important agent of God). At the point in time that the LDS church clearly recognizes Jesus as God (capital G) and instructs its members to worship him as such I will be willing to concede that it is Christian (though still heretical on many other points).

If you were to ask me “Why don’t you think Mormons are Christian?” and I responded “Because they don’t worship Jesus as God” would that be an explanatory statement?

* I should also clarify that I believe only Jesus has the right and power to define an individual as a true Christian. The point of this conversation is to set theological definitions in a meaningful way and to determine if the LDS church as an organization fits the definition of “Christian”.

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99 thoughts on “With Fear & Trembling — Mormonism Isn’t Christian

  1. I also think it’s reasonable to categorize Mormonism as something other than Christian. Yes, Mormons believe in salvation by Jesus Christ. However, Roman Catholics believe in the Old Testament and God’s covenant with Israel, but that does not make them Jews.

    Mormonism is sufficiently removed from traditional Christianity that I think it is fair to call it a completely different thing.

    On the other hand, used this way, Christianity is just a semantic category. If Mormonism is true, then it doesn’t matter how people classify it. The only reason Mormons might want to insist that they are Christians is to 1) obscure the very real and significant differences they have with the rest of Christianity, or 2) to clear up confusion about whether Mormons believe in Jesus.

    1) is a quasi-sinister motive that is speculative at best. You can make a pretty good argument that the Mormon church has been trying to reform it’s public image for quite some time, but I don;t know that that means anything other than image-consciousness.

    2) should not be a big deal. It would be like Protestants trying to convince Orthodox Jews that the Protestants were Jewish too, so the Orthodox Jews wouldn;t be confused and think that Protestants don;t believe in YHWH. But really, Protestant belief about the nature of God is so different from Orthodox Jewish belief that they cn’t be called the same religion anymore. Or at least, Orthodox Jews won;t call Protestants Jewish. And they are reasonable in not doing so.

  2. Most Mormons are neither concerned nor offended that you don’t think they are Christians.

    That has not been my experience in any way shape or form. I believe that there are some Mormons who don’t care, but they are the exception.

  3. I strongly disagree, CVF. Having grown up a faithful Mormon, and having only left the Church in the last six months, I can emphatically state that both mormons as individuals and Mormons as an institution have been very concerned for at least the last decade+ that they be considered Christians by the rest of the world. It’s come up in conference talks, Ensign articles, it is taught in seminary- it’s even the rationale behind the change in the Church’s logo a few yearsback and the insistence (it came out during a conference talk) that the Church is referred to as the Church of Jesus Christ, not as “the Mormon Church.” that wasn’t just about getting the name right. It was a PR campaign with the desired effect of changing the church’s image.

  4. As a Mormon, I can confirm the general notion that Latter-day Saints would like to be recognized as Christian by the larger Christian world.

    I, however, don’t understand why Mormons want this. Since when did Mormonism allow others to define what it is and is not. I guess to me the point of Mormonism has always been that Mormons are different, not exactly alike, traditional Christianity.

    I find an interesting parallel in Mormons’ attitudes towards Fundamentalist (modern-day polygamist) Mormons. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints refuse to recognize the fundamentalists as Mormons, much like Christians refuse to recognize LDS as Christian.

  5. According to the 2006 Random House Unabridged Dictionary, “Christian” means:

    adjective: of, pertaining to, or derived from Jesus Christ or His teachings
    noun: a person who believes in Jesus Christ

    According to those definitions, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is Christian and as a member of that church, so am I.

    I’m always confused by people who come up with their own definitions of “Christian” that seem to exclude whomever they want to from “Christianity” as they themselves have defined it.

    I am LDS and I believe in the Christ of the New Testament as my personal Savior, Redeemer, and as the Son of God and that only in and through Him can mankind be saved.

    I believe that Christ is a member of the Godhead which includes God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. I believe that Stephen saw Jesus Christ sitting on the right hand of God the Father and that Christ said that the Father sent Him here to earth to save us from our sins.

    I also follow Christ’s command to worship and pray unto the Father.

    Can’t we all just get along, stop the hairsplitting, and work together against the atheism and debauchery that is spreading across the world even as we speak? United we stand, divided we fall.

    P.S. There’s no reason to “tremble” – I’m a _nice_ Mormon. :-P

  6. That is an interesting parallel!

    Christopher, I came to an important realization on my mission: labels are just labels. If the LDS church is true, the way it claims to be true, then it doesn’t matter very much if it’s a cult, a sect, a religion, or whether it is even Christian or not. The label doesn;t change what the church is! I decided that if the LDS church is a cult, then by gum, it’s the only true and living cult on the face of the earth!

    Of course I’ve left the church now, but I still think the attitude was healthy.

    Protestants, particularly nondenominational Evangelicals, are often really hung up on whether Mormonism is Christian or not, but they are hung up on it for a good reason! Protestantism largely isn;t concerned with what specific denomination you’re part of- Presbyterians, Evangelicals, Methodists, etc. all typically consider themselves part of the same Christian religion. this goes doubly so for the nondenominational Evangelical types. For a nondenom EV, someone who goes to a different Christian church is still on the same page as far as they’re concerned. And in fact, if your friends of family decide to attend a different denomination or different nondenominational church, it’s not that big of a deal.

    But if you leave and join a non-Christian church, it matters, because you’ve changed religions. Thus, by insisting to Evangelicals that they’re Christian, Mormons are talking about something different than EVs are, and it can wind up being misleading, because Mormonism really is something different.

    This can be hard to grasp for Mormons, because to Mormons only the LDS church is a part of their same religion. You can;t switch to another denomination and have it be the same basic thing.

  7. RCRonk,

    I appreciate all the many nice things you have to say about Jesus. But you refuse (or at least fail) to worship him or acknowledge him as the one and only true GOD, and so, I can’t come into fellowship with you. We have a different faith. As a worshiper of Jesus, it’s inappropriate for me to say that not-worshiping-Jesus is the same as worshiping-Jesus.

    Can’t we all just get along, stop the hairsplitting, and work together against the atheism and debauchery that is spreading across the world even as we speak? United we stand, divided we fall.

    I think there are a great many things that Evangelicals can and should stand together on. One of those is identifying and standing against false prophets who lead people away from worshiping Jesus. I hope you will join me.

  8. Dando – I get what you’re saying, but why did Jesus tell us to pray to and worship His father and then gave us an example prayer where he started it off “Our Father, who art in Heaven”? Do you pray to the Father as Jesus commanded? Where does it say in the Bible to worship Jesus instead of the Father? I’m not trying to be a jerk, I’m just trying to figure out exactly where this is coming from.

  9. I don’t worship Jesus INSTEAD of the Father. I worship Jesus along with the Father and the Holy Spirit all as God. The New Testament as a whole makes it pretty clear that Jesus is to be glorified and praised just as the Father is.

    I pray to the Father. I pray to the Son. I pray to the Spirit.

    Where do LDS get the idea that they should worship the Father to the exclusion of the Son? This practice is outside of what Christians have done for nearly 2,000 years.

  10. Ok – I think I get it now. We disagree on the whole trinity issue.

    I believe that Jesus was talking to “my father and your father” rather than Himself – that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, were all separately manifested at Jesus’ baptism: Jesus in the river Jordan, the Father’s voice coming from the heavens, and the Holy Ghost symbolized in the form of a dove – that Stephen saw Jesus sitting on the right hand of the Father: two beings – that we as Christians need to “be one, as the Father and I are one” – you and I should be one in purpose and direction, not body – just like the Father and the Son are one in purpose and direction, not body.

    That’s the real issue, the trinity. I get it. Believe me, if Jesus were here, I’d be kneeling at His feet praising and worshiping Him because He is with me, just at the Nephites did in the Book of Mormon when He was with them. But if I am to follow what is in the New Testament itself about the nature of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, then I have to follow Jesus’ command to worship and pray to the Father when Christ is not with me. I hope that helps move the conversation along.

    I still haven’t heard anyone address the whole “Christianity” self-definition issue I brought up. What think ye?

  11. I have. Go back and look at my comments.

    It matters to Evangelicals in a different way than it matters to Latter-Day Saints, and that’s why Evangelicals can’t call Mormons Christians and why Mormons can’t understand why not.

  12. My point is that people are taking it upon themselves to redefine the word “Christian” and I don’t think that redefinition should go unchallenged. It’s not a label – it’s an english word that has a definition in the dictionary.

    Redefining the word “Christian” on the fly to suit one’s needs and then using it in blog titles to imply that Mormons don’t believe in Christ and follow His teachings is dishonest at best. That’s my point.

  13. Nah; that’s pretty much crap. Who says the dictionary gets to define “Christianity?” Who mystically empowered the dictionary company to have the final say over the English language?

    Who is better equipped to define Christianity, the dictionary people, or 2000 years of Christians? Nobody’s redefining anything, and nobody’s taking it on themselves to do it, either.

    And again, please read what I said above- nobody is trying to say that Mormons don’t believe in Jesus Christ or follow his teachings. That’s what Mormons think Christians are saying, but it isn’t really.

    Like I said, all Christians believe in the God of the Old Testament, but that doesn;t make them Jews! When Jews say “you’re not a Jew,” they’re not saying you don;t believe in God/Adonai/YHWH/whatever! They’re saying that what you believe about God is so different from what they believe that you aren’t really one of them. And for Christians, especially for nondenominational Christians who believe that the specific denomination or church you attend or join doesn;t matter, because it’s Christianity that matters, Mormonism is different enough that it does does matter. Because by not labeling Mormons as Christian, it tells them that joining the Mormon church isn;t just going to one of several basically interchangeable Christian churches. And they’re right! It isn’t! Mormonism is so different, that it is actually a different religion!

    Do Mormons believe the same things about Jesus Christ that Evangelicals do? No! And many of those things are exactly what the Christian world has been using to define Christianity for almost two millenia.

    Once more, by saying Mormons are not Christian, Evangelicals are not saying that you “don’t believe in Jesus” any more than Jews are saying that Christians don’t believe in the God of the Old Testament when they say that Christians aren;t Jews.

    Mormons don;t believe in Jesus Christ the same way that Evangelicals and other Protestants do, and to Protestants, that matters. Shoot, rcronk, according to your definition, Muslims (who believe in Jesus Christ and his teachings) would be Christians, and that’s preposterous, because they believe something so radically different about Jesus Christ that it’s for all intents and purposes an entirely different religion. And it matters to Christians because it means if they become Muslims, they’ve changed religions, whereas if they become, say, Presbyterians, they haven;t changed religions. Becoming Mormon isn;t just switching Christian denominations, and it would be dishonest to try to claim that it was.

    Really, though, it’s a semantic category! Why do you care if you get labeled Christian or not? It doesn;t actually alter what you believe either way.

  14. Rcronk–

    If everyone is a Christian-implying the same religion–that you would be comfortable with everyone coming to an LDS service and partaking the sacrament. However, that isn’t the case–only LDS should take the sacrament. Why? Because it’s different.

    Yes, Mormons believe in Jesus Christ. Are they Christians? Does the question even really matter? Mormons are Christians according to your dictionary definition. Mormons AREN’T Christians when it comes to identifying if you’re in the same religion. Would you say you were the same religion as your Protestant friend? I assume not–I wouldn’t have when I was Mormon–so why make an issue out of it?

    I think I would have liked to have had a better appreciation of what non-Mormons meant when they said ‘Christian’ because I was also baffled–I believe in Jesus Christ. Therefore I am a Christian. That was my thinking.

    Now I see that in different circles, it has a different connotation. And knowing that connotation–whether or not you agree with it–really really helps in the conversations around religion.

  15. Thanks for the comments. I guess we can agree to disagree about whether it matters or not. I think it matters. “Christian” isn’t a religion, it’s a belief in Christ – that He’s our savior, that’s He’s the Son of God. I believe these things and apparently so do all of you.

    So why the article? Is it just to divide people who have faith in Christ into even more isolated groups than we already are? Not a good game plan when we all have a common enemy.

  16. Look. I’m really not concerned about being a part of historical/traditional Christianity.

    But that really isn’t the whole story here.

    Pull your random, uninformed Baptist, Catholic, or Lutheran straight from the pews and tell her Mormons aren’t Christians. What is she going to think?

    “Oh, those Mormons must have a fundamentally different view of the personhood of God and the nature of the Holy Trinity”

    or

    “Oh, those Mormons must not believe in Jesus!”

    I really don’t care about the first. But I find the second train of thought deeply troubling.

  17. Oh, since my comments are being accepted again, anyone know why my comments weren’t posting for the last couple days?

  18. Nate Oman over at Times and Seasons had a post on this issue.

    A Mormon friend of his threw a birthday party for her young daughter. One of the well wishers (from a mainline Christian family) presented the girl with a set of coloring books featuring stories about Jesus. Well and good.

    A week goes by and suddenly the woman shows up on the doorstep apologizing profusely, explaining that she just learned from her pastor “that Mormons are Christians.” She quickly offers to take the coloring books back.

    THAT my friends, is what this labeling game is really about.

    It has almost zip, zero, nadda, to do with doctrine, metaphysics or theology. It’s about the common understanding, and the barriers we intentionally, or unintentionally throw up between people.

  19. Katy and Kullervo, thanks for your comments I think you guys did a great job explaining why it matters to Evangelicals. I might just plagiarize your comments into a post later this week.

    RC said
    “Christian” isn’t a religion, it’s a belief in Christ – that He’s our savior, that’s He’s the Son of God. I believe these things and apparently so do all of you.

    So suddenly you get to define it, but I don’t? I think your definition is just fine, but it leaves out that Jesus is GOD. It actually really saddens me that Mormons aren’t willing to give Jesus his full due. You seem to pay a lot of service to him with your lips but you won’t acknowledge him for who he is. You stop early in the praise he deserves.

    RC also said:
    Believe me, if Jesus were here, I’d be kneeling at His feet praising and worshiping Him because He is with me, just at the Nephites did in the Book of Mormon when He was with them. But if I am to follow what is in the New Testament itself about the nature of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, then I have to follow Jesus’ command to worship and pray to the Father when Christ is not with me. I hope that helps move the conversation along.

    Thanks, this is helpful and does move the conversation forward. I don’t understand this separate stance of worship for Jesus being present with you or not. Can you show me somewhere in LDS teaching that you are only supposed to worship Jesus if he is physically present with you? A teaching by a GA or anything? Does this mean that you plan on worshiping Christ for eternity in the Celestial Kingdom? Most LDS I know only speak of worshiping the Father in the after life.

    Seth,
    To the average Evangelical, if you don’t believe Jesus is your God, then you DON’T believe in him. There are plenty of people who believe in Jesus as nothing more than a nice moral teacher. We don’t call them Christians simply because they have some belief in Jesus. If a Mormon doesn’t believe that Jesus is God, then I believe we are right to say they don’t believe in Jesus (at least in the Evangelical understanding of what it means to believe in Jesus). Their belief stops before it is complete.

    I certainly understand the great hurt this conversation can and has caused. My purpose here is to help us both overcome that pain. But don’t be deceived into thinking that this only happens on the Evangelical side. I have friends who gave some LDS cousins “The Chronicles of Narnia” as a birthday gift. The gift was promptly returned by the parents because it was not written by a Mormon author. (irony I know, for how beloved CS Lewis is to some Mormons)

    I released your comments from SPAM. Sorry about that, they had nothing to do with Britney Spears or Paris Hilton.

  20. This is a case of the term having different meanings or connotations to different people. Both sides argue that their definition is “correct,” but that’s prescriptivist hogwash with no basis in linguistics or reality. Words are given meaning by common usage over time, and many, if not most, words have multiple definitions. For a fairly reliable look at this, check out a full-sized Oxford English dictionary, which defines words based on their usage and gives citations to the first use for that definition.

    Many of these multiple definitions are just shades of overlapping meaning- not exactly the same thing, but a little bit different. Often, different words have different meanings in different contexts.

    In the context of studying world religion from a sociological perspective, Mormonism, like Jehovah’s Witnessing and Christian Science, would probably be considered part of Christianity.

    From the context of Christian theology (as in, the Christian theology that’s been developed and preserved for almost 2000 years and is studied in seminaries), Mormonism is probably not Christian, by which I mean not Christian in the sense they’re talking about

    When your Protestant friend asks if they should take their Jesus coloring book back say “oh, no thanks, we believe in Jesus, too.” No harm done! What does it matter if people are confused about whether you believe in Jesus, too? How does that hurt you? If people are going to treat you differently because you’re “not Christian,” I really, really doubt that a complete understanding of Mormon theology and Christology would change their attitude.

  21. Dictionaries don’t invent definitions, they report on common usage of words. This means that they go out and research how people are using words and report on that.

    I already gave you the adjective and noun forms from one dictionary. Below are some more from many different dictionaries. Remember, this is how people in general use and understand these terms. The first definition is the most common usage.

    Below, I have used the first definition from various dictionaries. Remember, this isn’t a company or group of people putting together a dictionary and inventing word meanings, it is several different groups of people handing you and me a report of how people are most commonly currently using and understanding that word.

    This is important because if you are writing an article for general consumption, which you are with this article, then in order to communicate effectively, you must use words as the general public most commonly use them. This will get your correct point across without misleading. By the way, Mormons are indeed Christian according to the common usage of the word documented below.

    2006 Random House Unabridged Dictionary
    adj. – of, pertaining to, or derived from Jesus Christ or His teachings
    n. – a person who believes in Jesus Christ

    The 2006 American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
    adj. – Professing belief in Jesus as Christ or following the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus
    n. – One who professes belief in Jesus as Christ or follows the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus

    WordNet® 3.0, © 2006 by Princeton University
    n. – a religious person who believes Jesus is the Christ and who is a member of a Christian denomination

    The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
    Copyright © 2005
    1. A follower or disciple of Jesus; someone who believes Jesus is the Christ or Messiah. The New Testament mentions that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians within a few years after his death.

    2. A follower of Jesus and his teachings.

    And then there are etymology and bible dictionaries that define the word according to its history and scriptural usage:

    Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary
    the name given by the Greeks or Romans, probably in reproach, to the followers of Jesus. It was first used at Antioch. The names by which the disciples were known among themselves were “brethren,” “the faithful,” “elect,” “saints,” “believers.” But as distinguishing them from the multitude without, the name “Christian” came into use, and was universally accepted. This name occurs but three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16).

    Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2001 Douglas Harper
    O.E. cristen, from L. Christianus, from Gk. christianos, from Christos (see Christ). First used in Antioch, according to Acts xi.25-26. Christianity “the religion of Christ,” is from c.1303.

    And then there’s the Bible itself:

    Acts 11:26
    the disciples were called Christians (the definition of Christian here being “a disciple (follower of the teachings) of Christ”)

    I don’t see your definition anywhere in the common usage among English speaking people, in the historical derivation of the word, even to the Greek, nor is it found in the Bible itself. Therefore, you are misleading the people who you are writing to by using a word in such a way that is not how people generally use it.

    For fun, let’s try Spanish:

    REAL ACADEMIA ESPAÑOLA
    adj. Perteneciente o relativo a la religión de Cristo (Pertaining or relative to the religion of Christ)
    adj. Que profesa la fe de Cristo (One that professes faith in Christ)

    Nope. Not there either.

    In conclusion, your article title is misleading to the general population and hurtful to Mormons. This could be unintentional in that you didn’t know how people generally use the word Christian, or it could have been intentional in that you want to purposefully divide and distance yourself from Mormons through narrow redefinition.

    As a side note, you also need to look up the word worship. The general use of that word is:

    “reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred”

    “The reverent love and devotion accorded a deity”

    “Sense of reverence paid to a supernatural or divine being”

    And the Spanish “adorar”: Reverenciar con sumo honor o respeto a un ser, considerándolo como cosa divina (To reverence a being with extreme honor or respect, considering it divine)

    Again, according to the common usage of the word “worship”, Mormons do indeed worship Christ.

    P.S. Seth – thanks for the story – that so clearly compressed all of my babblings down into one simple example of how damaging this kind of redefinition is. May I use that story in the future to save people from having to endure my babblings? :)

  22. Thanks for all of those definitions. If you check my original post, I made it clear that the purpose of this post was an attempt to explain WHY Evangelicals don’t view Mormonism as Christian. I also made it clear that I was seeking a theological definition, not a common usage definition.

    Evangelicals may be wrong. Your multiple definitions certainly add weight to that. I wasn’t really asking if you can agree with me. I was asking if this would help explain our position.

  23. I actually disagree with your last point, Kullervo. I think the whole point of this blog and other conversations between Evangelicalism and Mormonism is that understanding each other is beneficial. And at least for me personally, it would bother me that someone didn’t think I believe in Jesus Christ. For me, it does matter if someone is confused about my belief in Christ, regardless of whether I am ever treated differently as a result.

  24. Yes, your explanation helps me to understand why you have said, “Mormonism isn’t Christian”. I hope that you now understand why saying that is a misleading and ineffective form of communication.

    It’s not about right or wrong or agreement – it’s about effective communication. If you want to communicate with people, you need to know what meaning your audience most commonly attaches to the words you are using.

    I am hoping that my posts will help you and others who share your minority definition of the word “Christian” to start using it in a way that more accurately and effectively communicates the truth rather than using it as a tool of division.

    I sincerely hope that you will – by understanding how the majority of people generally understand the words “Christian” and “worship” – change the way you communicate. That you will stop saying that “Mormonism isn’t Christian” and “Mormons don’t worship Christ” now that you understand how the majority of your audience interprets and understands those words.

  25. So, why do Mormons love C.S. Lewis? Wasn’t it Lewis who tried to make this same argument stating that words like “Christian” have historical, traditional meanings and that when we ignore that history for the sake of political correctness, we do so at our peril?

    These dictionary definitions and claims that “I believe in Jesus therefore I’m a Christian” just don’t stand up in any meaningful way. As Dando said, most non-Christian religions claim to believe in Jesus and even allow that he taught some really beneficial and important things.

  26. This has already gotten longer than I can take the time to read, but in case it’s been mentioned: no, LDS claiming Christian status is not a recent development; it has been going on since its inception. See here for the specifics.

  27. Jim,

    You aren’t really comparing other religions teaching “that [Christ] taught some really beneficial and important things” with the LDS claim that Christ is absolutely necessary for our very salvation? This is comparing apples and oranges. Christ and his sacrifice is the center of the Restoration; the Restoration message would be meaningless without it! And such is insufficient to be considered Christian?

  28. Jim – again, it’s not about who’s definition of Christianity is right or wrong, it’s about effective and accurate communication.

    If you like to define the word “tuba” as being a banana and then you tell everyone you like to eat tubas, they’re going to get incorrect information and not really understand what you’re trying to say. The reason for this is that the majority of people take tuba to mean a large brass instrument while you take it to mean a banana. The difference in the two definitions is what causes this type of miscommunication.

    Therefore, first learn what the majority of people think “Christian” means and then use that definition when speaking to them. You can find that definition by looking through dictionaries which document common usage of words in a given population. Common usage doesn’t mean it’s going to match your definition or be “right” according to you, but it will match the definition that the majority of your audience understands and therefore you’ll get a more correct and accurate point across.

  29. One more comment, then I really should get some work done: if the issue is truly the Trinity, as was brought up earlier, then there are some important distinctions that need to be made.

    First, unless we fall into modalism (as rcronk does, perhaps unwittingly), there is a genuine distinction between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This is generally spoken of in terms of “persons”–they are three persons and one substance.

    Second, the Trinity as Trinity is also called God; the unity apart from the individual personhood of the members of the Trinity also carries the status of God. In this, you might be surprised, LDS agree: they are one God (2 Nephi 31:21; Mosiah 15:4-5; Alma 11:28-29; Mormon 7:7; Doctrine and Covenants 20:28). Which then raises a question: what kind of unity?

    I have yet to be corrected on this, so if anyone can demonstrate otherwise please do so, but the only scriptural reference(s) to the unity of the members of the Godhead is found in John 17. This, however, causes a problem for our classical Christian friends: the unity spoken of in John 17 is expressly communicable. I quote:

    20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
    21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
    22 And the glory which thou gavest me [compare vs. 5] I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
    23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one

    Within the traditional metaphysic that informs the classical understanding of the Trinity, this is expressly impossible: the unity shared by the Father and the Son is a unity of substance and this unity is incommunicable, as is the glory that is spoken of in this chapter.

    Now, this could be argued against in (as far as I can tell) two ways: first, one could claim that the above, despite the lack of any verbiage to validate this argument, is really qualified in relation to what exactly Christ is sharing with the redeemed, which then differs from what Christ shares with the Father. As might be imagined, I’m not convinced and nothing in the context demands such; in fact, it seems to demand the opposite.

    Second, that there are other scriptures that refer to the nature of the unity of the Godhead. As I said in the beginning, I’m waiting to be told what these are. Without this, though, there is no Biblical support for the Trinitarian use of “one substance.” It might be fair to note as well that homoousious is actually better translated “similar (i.e. homo) substance,” hence some have argued that Athanasius in fact either didn’t accept the classical view or consciously left enough ‘wiggle room’ for disagreement on this matter. Either way, there it is.

  30. I’ll grant that the statement “Christ is necessary for salvation” could be perceived as being stronger than “Christ taught beneficial and important things”, but in truth it’s really not much stronger, because the very identity of “Christ” and the meaning of “salvation” are vastly different in LDS theology.

    My original question (I guess I should have posted it without the commentary) went more toward pointing out Lewis’ fundamental disagreement with the post-modern, populist approach to language that rcronk is advocating.

  31. Jim,

    It’s not? Ok, so me saying, “Christ taught some really important moral truths,” is only, what, slightly stronger than saying, “Christ is necessary for my life and salvation”? I’m really not seeing it.

    As for “vastly different,” I would certainly beg to differ. The biggest differences are ontological in nature, a topic that, quite frankly, the Bible is quite silent on (see my above post). I would say we agree on the “vast majority” of things about Christ’s life, but it is more in the minutia that our disagreements lie.

    As for the original question, a few points: first, I doubt that rcronk is “advocating” postmodernism of any kind. In fact, I would wager that rcronk hasn’t read a lick of any of the primary so-called “post-modern” thinkers (see below).

    Second, as someone who has been studying philosophy for a number of years, your use of “post-modern” is probably a misnomer as most people really don’t understand the figures that are often cited as being in that camp (i.e. Derrida, Heidegger, Foucault, etc.; Rorty might be the only exception as he seems to say what the “popular” understanding of so-called “post-modernism” tends to entail). I personally have stopped using the term because of such common misunderstandings.

    Lastly, I would even agree with you: we must take into consideration tradition and more specific definitions. However, the limitations of such an approach must be understood: the definition then turns largely into a biased definition. If Mormonism is not accepted as Christian in any relatively strong sense, despite the absolute centrality of the Christ figure in its theology and doctrine, it is only because of, honestly, political reasons: you’re not part of our group and as we have a monopoly on how to define thus and such terms, you cannot be “in the club.” And then the central meaning of the term, i.e. “Christ,” becomes secondary to the political parties who are claiming exclusive rights to the term. As you said, “it’s really not much stronger.”

  32. rcronk, the dictionary definitions are compelling.

    Dogma is fine in my book. But you also have to be mindful of how it is being interpreted and acted upon when you use it. It also helps to have a firm grasp of what different audiences actually believe. For instance, I’ve long held the suspicion that traditional Christian elites would be rather surprised, and perhaps dismayed, if they actually took inventory of what their parishoners really believe. Many Mormon missionaries serving in America could tell them that a lot of the supposed Mormon heresies are actually quite popular among mainline Christians. For instance, the idea that God has a physical body appears to be extremely popular, and many Christians are surprised to hear from the missionaries that their pastor doesn’t agree.

    I sometimes get the feeling that Mormons are being required by the theologians and ministers of mainline Christianity to pass doctrinal tests that they don’t even require of their own membership.

    Now, as compelling as the dictionary may be, it’s not the end of the story. Groups of people have the right to seek to change the way a word is used. Perhaps Catholic theologians are of the opinion that the dictionary usage is too broad, and they would like it to change – perhaps to exclude Mormons. They are entitled to do so.

    But this raises the question that I’d like to put to the Evangelicals here:

    What is the benefit of narrowing the definition of “Christian” in such a way that it excludes Mormonism? And who is the beneficiary?

    I don’t mind if you want to push for a redefinition, but I think you should have an explanation for why redefinition is desirable.

  33. Seth R.,

    “I sometimes get the feeling that Mormons are being required by the theologians and ministers of mainline Christianity to pass doctrinal tests that they don’t even require of their own membership.”

    Here here! Which raises the question: exactly how orthodox must one be to be Christian or to be saved? Can an average Protestant, say, misinterpret the Trinity and believe in modalism and still be saved? Exactly how much of a theologian and philosopher must one be in order to receive and continue to receive Christ’s saving work? Where do we draw the line if “orthodoxy” is the measure?

  34. I don’t know that we want to get into a discussion of the Evangelical vs. LDS concept of salvation here. I guess that would be up to Dando, but yes, I’d maintain that our understandings are vastly different with respect to who Jesus is and what He accomplished on the cross,

    I’ll defer to your understanding of the word post-modern inasmuch as you disagree with my usage. You clearly understood my point.

    Finally, all that remains is my first question. Why do Mormon’s love C.S. Lewis?

  35. Jim,

    If Dando allows me to assist him in this blog one of my first posts will be an extended treatment of a “LDS concept of salvation” (I would not be so presumptuous to give the LDS concept of salvation, but it will be littered with scriptures that LDS accept as authoritative). From the many discussions I’ve had Evangelicals sorely misunderstand it. Frankly, that many LDS don’t really understand it doesn’t help either, but as I’ve said elsewhere, “Thank God we don’t need to be learned theologians to benefit from Christ’s sacrifice.” But, yes, another time for that discussion.

    On your last question: C.S. Lewis wrote a lot of good stuff that is accessible to the average reader. Even if LDS might not agree with everything he wrote, that doesn’t mean we can’t like much of it. I’ve known many LDS who like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas (you can include me on the latter), but that doesn’t mean that they (I) accept everything they said or agreed with every assertion. Lewis was an incredible writer and I would say that, by and large, I could agree with much of what he wrote, theological disagreements aside.

  36. it’s not about who’s definition of Christianity is right or wrong, it’s about effective and accurate communication.

    Yes, effective communication is key. And when a Mormon tells a non-LDS Christian that Mormonism is Christian, the Mormon needs to understand and use the classical, theological definition of “Christian” that Christians hold a majority understanding on. It is misleading to use the dictionary definition when you know that the person is inferring the theological definition.

    If LDS are going to tell non-LDS Christians that they are “Christian” it is irresponsible to claim that they mean it in the same way. They need to be clear that when they say they “believe” in Jesus, they don’t mean that they believe that he is God and deserves our worship. This distinction is PROFOUND to non-LDS Christians.

    Regardless of what the common usage of the word “Christian” is, my point it to highlight that it has been in the Christian tradition to worship Jesus as God. I’m not sure what justified or facilitated this change from orthodoxy in Mormonism, but it is something non-LDS need to know is significantly different.

  37. I sometimes get the feeling that Mormons are being required by the theologians and ministers of mainline Christianity to pass doctrinal tests that they don’t even require of their own membership.

    Yes, there are different levels of accountability. The LDS church and the Prophet that controls Mormon thought have much more to answer for than the average ward member. Likewise, pastors, seminary professors, and university presidents are held into higher account than any pew sitter.

    I believe George Barna has made it abundantly clear that what the congregation believes and what the pastor believes are often far different.

  38. I feel like I’m kind of being ignored.

    For an Evangelical to become a Baptist, a Presbyterian, or a Lutheran, he hasn;t changed religions. He’s just switched denominations. For an Evangelical to become Mormon, the Evangeical has actually switched religions. It’s a whole lot different than just becoming Presbyterian.

    An Evangelical would describe his religion as “Christian.” “Evangelical” is just his denomination. There’s a difference. Evangelicals and Presbyterians are in the same religion, just in different denominations. It matters.

    Evangelicals and Mormons are not in the same religion. Becoming Mormon is not the same as becoming Presbyterian or Lutheran. Evangelicals describe their religion as “Christian.” Mormons are a different religion. Therefore, Evangelicals describe Mormons as “not Christian.”

    If Evangelicals said Mormons were Christian, it would be the same thing as saying Mormonism was just another denomination, and an individual Evangelical should be free to switch to Mormonism (and back again) without a fundamental change in belief or religion. But that is clearly not the case.

    Nobody is “changing definitions to exclude.” Exclude from what? Mormons are self-excluded, by actually being a different religion! Mormonism isn’t just another denomination. That’s all Mormonism is being excluded from!

    Now, I will grant that this would be easier if Evangelicals would use the term “Protestant” instead of “Christian.” Because that’s pretty close to what they really mean. And Mormons really aren’t Protestants. But nevertheless, the fact is that most (or at least many) Evangelicals don’t self-identify as “Protestant” but rather as “Christian.”

    In asking to be called Christian, I don’t think Mormons realize that they are asking Evangelicals to revise their entire vocabulary simply for Mormons’ convenience and comfort.

  39. First off, you haven’t really explained what YOU yourself believe. The ol’ “only Jesus has the right” to judge someone’s Christianity is a cop out.

    The title of the post “With Fear and Trembling” suggests that Mormon reaction will be swift and terrible, like we’re going to come and force you out of your homes at gunpoint.

    Second, the title stinks. “…Mormonism isn’t Christian,” whatever you may say beneath, is lame. Why didn’t you title the post “Why some protestants don’t see Mormonism as Christian”?

    I wonder if you’re trying to have your cake and eat it too, to heavily imply we’re not Christian without quite coming out and saying it yourself.

  40. Dando – I have given you documentation from many English and Spanish dictionaries of how the majority of people speaking these languages define the word “Christian”. You say that non-LDS Christians define it differently, but have yet to provide any proof of that other than your word and perhaps the words of a few who potentially have a vested interest in excluding Mormons from their “group”.

    Until you can prove and cite how non-LDS Christians define “Christian”, we have your word against the research and study of the creators of all of these dictionaries.

    Please cite your research into how your readers will be interpreting your use of the word “Christian”.

    Remember that the whole point of this is to convey a correct meaning to your readers, not to demand that your readers must be defining “Christian” the same way you are.

    According to these dictionaries, people will read your article title and think “Mormons don’t believe in Christ and don’t follow His teachings” and that message is absolutely false.

    Since you now know how the majority of people will be interpreting your words (based on the dictionary definition), and you know that their interpretation will end up being false, do you not now have a responsibility to clarify that misunderstanding by using words that have a more correct meaning? Or even further, if you did provide some study that showed that there were many vastly different definitions for the word “Christian”, wouldn’t it then also be your responsibility to use a different set of words that weren’t so ambiguous and had such potential for confusion?

    I believe you just want to kick Mormons out of the “club” and this “Christian” redefinition is your mechanism for doing so without looking mean. But that’s just my own gut feeling.

    Kevin – You are correct that I have not “read a lick of any of the primary so-called “post-modern” thinkers”. But the point I’m currently making doesn’t require me to. If you have any favorites of the ones you mentioned, let me know and I’ll go do some reading though – I’m open to expanding my horizons.

  41. Dando, here are two important questions for you to personally answer:

    1) How do you, personally define a “true Christian?”

    2) Does it seem reasonably possible to you that the percentage of “true Christians” in the LDS Church is as high as the percentage of “true Christians” in the average protestant church?

    Don’t waffle. Don’t flake. Don’t squirm. Don’t qualify your comment so much that you’ve divest it of any meaning or personal accountability.

    Give me a straight answer.

  42. Kullervo, I am really tempted to agree.

    I really do think our religions are very different. Neither am I that gung-ho to “assimilate into the collective.” I am also extremely ambiguous about the labels we use for ourselves and each other.

    I’m still interested in hearing it spelled-out exactly what benefit is derived by mainline Christians in excluding Mormons from the definition. I’ve got some vague ideas, but I’d rather hear it from actual mainline Christians.

  43. By the way, I tried to suggest that Mormonism might be better understood as “the fourth Abrahamic world religion” over on Touchstone Magazine’s Mere Comments blog and got utterly shot-down on the grounds that Mormons aren’t monotheists.

    I got the distinct impression that any definition that gave any degree of respectability to Mormonism would encounter fierce opposition from Evangelical quarters. It was like they were insisting that we remain as marginalized as possible. By comparison, Dando, this thread has been absolutely heartwarming, so I don’t think you need to be apologetic in how you’ve handled it.

  44. Incidentally, I object to people suggesting that Dando personally has a double-motive here, or that his intentions aren’t sincere. I don’t think there’s any need to tar him with the same brush that perhaps other Christian elites are deserving of.

  45. I’m an auditor. We have a term we use in the auditing world ‘comfortable’ or ‘gaining comfort’.

    Now, when most people say that they got comfortable, they mean something kind of hazy–you couldn’t pin it down, and mean EXACTLY how comfortable they were. But you get their point.

    When I’m at work and I say that I’ve gained comfort or gotten comfortable with something, it means that I have–with mathematical accuracy, and in such a way that you could do what I did and get the same results–become ‘comfortable’ with a number. It’s to the penny–if the number was one penny different than my threshold, then I would no longer be comfortable.

    Most groups have some kind of jargon. That’s fine–and necessary for what we do. And if within Christianity they have a technical definition for what ‘Christianity’ means, what does that mean? Would you say that I’m excluding you because I speak auditor jargon and it doesn’t fit in with the definition that you–and your dictionary–agree with? Sure–most people may mean something else. And when these most people say that Mormons don’t believe in Christ, they’re wrong.

    But, when within Christianity people want a technical definition for what defines a Christian, and it excludes certain people who DO believe in Christ but who DON’T believe in other aspects that this technical group considers necessary for their discussions, what does that really affect?

    Again, I think that when most people say that someone isn’t Christian, they’re being ignorant and decidedly un-Christian–who can tell me what I believe, regardless of anything else, but me?

    It’s a pet peeve of mine when people tell other people what they do or don’t believe anyway. If I’m a member of the Church of Kullervo–that doesn’t believe in eating chocolate cake for breakfast… does that mean that I don’t believe in that? Heck no–chocolate cake is good anytime. :D But that’s a tangent.

  46. Kullervo – sorry if I’ve ignored you. It sounds like you’re doing some redefinition yourself. The word you seem to be redefining is “religion.” The generally majority-accepted definition of a “religion” according to the 2006 Random House Unabridged Dictionary is:

    “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

    Each of the “denominations” you mentioned have different beliefs, ritual observances, and moral codes, otherwise they’d not be called by different names and argue amongst themselves about who is right or wrong concerning various points of doctrine. Therefore they are different religions. The Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Mormons are different religions. If you change from believing in the doctrines of one to another, you have changed religions.

    The exclusion deals with not wanting “those Mormons” to be categorized under the same heading as “my church” – under the heading of “Christian”. By doing so, they preach that Mormons are not Christian, which people generally take as “Mormons don’t believe in or follow Christ and his teachings” which is spreading falsehoods about the Mormon church. It’s subtly deceiving at best – outright lying at worst.

    I don’t think you or Dando speak for all evangelicals – just the exclusionists. Again, please show me an authoritative study or survey of the general population or evangelicals that supports your assertions about how people in general (or even just evangelicals) define the words “Christian” and “religion.” I’ve cited the sources of my assertions, cite yours.

  47. katyjane – I have proposed that, in general, people define Christianity as people who believe in Christ and follow His teachings. I backed this up with reputable sources whose job it is to go find out how people are generally defining words.

    I have not seen any sources that imply that a majority of people out there define Christianity in any other way.

    If someone does come up with studies or sources that show that there is enough confusion on the exact definition of “Christianity” then we all have the responsibility to specifically qualify our use of that word so that there is no misunderstanding to hide behind. So instead of saying “Mormons aren’t Christian” we should instead say something less ambiguous like “Mormons pray to the Father instead of to Jesus” That’s all.

  48. To Dando who s that insist Jesus is God, I submit that Jesus Himself said otherwise. Jesus said that His Father was the ‘only true God’. See John 17:3.

  49. I don’t think any member of the LDS faith would have a problem worshiping Jesus. He is after all a member of the Godhead. As such I consider him to be God with the big “g”.

  50. “katyjane – I have proposed that, in general, people define Christianity as people who believe in Christ and follow His teachings. I backed this up with reputable sources whose job it is to go find out how people are generally defining words.

    I have not seen any sources that imply that a majority of people out there define Christianity in any other way.”

    And I agreed with you. But, when speaking within the confines of say, Protestantism, there may be jargon. I believe that they would define ‘mystery’ differently than you (and the general population) and would understand both definitions of it.

    As I said before, I think that anyone who says that Mormons don’t believe in Christ are full of hogwash and ignorant. If Protestants say that Mormons don’t fit the Protestant definition of Christianity–a more narrow definition than the generally accepted one–that is their prerogative, and it shouldn’t bother you in the least. After all, they don’t fit into your definition of having the fullness of the gospel–although they would most certainly disagree, and say that you have a more narrow definition than the one generally accepted by Christians, and thus are being exclusionary.

  51. katyjane – fair enough.

    If they are going to use a non-majority or jargon definition, they need to translate that into more specific terms instead of throwing that jargon out there that they know will be misunderstood.

    The goal here is for all of us to correctly understand each other. So let’s do it. I think we’ve all learned a bit more about each other here and people in general and so with that additional information, can we all agree to stop throwing out phrases that we know will be misunderstood and that are potentially inflammatory and stick with verbiage that is more precise?

    And yes, it goes both ways – if I use LDS jargon that I know would be misunderstood, I should clarify it and then if we disagree after all that, fine – at least we will all know with more clarity what we’re disagreeing about and we won’t be misrepresenting each other’s beliefs.

  52. P.S. Thanks, Dando, for giving us all the opportunity to find some common ground and understand each other better and hopefully we can communicate better as well.

  53. Random said:
    1) How do you, personally define a “true Christian?”

    2) Does it seem reasonably possible to you that the percentage of “true Christians” in the LDS Church is as high as the percentage of “true Christians” in the average protestant church?

    Great questions. My answer deserves a separate blog entry instead of being buried down here in the 50’s. I PROMISE an answer.

    Seth said:
    Dando, this thread has been absolutely heartwarming, so I don’t think you need to be apologetic in how you’ve handled it.

    Thanks for that Seth. I greatly needed that affirmation. Incidentally, I think your description of Mormonism as a fourth Abrahamic religion is much more descriptive than “Christian” (monotheism/henotheism notwithstanding)

    RC said:
    I believe you just want to kick Mormons out of the “club” and this “Christian” redefinition is your mechanism for doing so without looking mean. But that’s just my own gut feeling.

    I think Kullervo did a great job of describing how Mormons kicked themselves out of the club. I’m not trying to do anything but be polite about it stating that it’s still the case.

    As to why this matters. It matters for the same reason the LDS church doesn’t want to be confused with polygamist groups. It confuses people. The nature of Jesus as God is not minutia. It is a fundamental belief in Christianity. Telling people that the belief that Jesus is God and the belief that Jesus is NOT God can be a be mutually compatible within the theological bounds of Christianity is false and misleading.

    Jay said:
    I don’t think any member of the LDS faith would have a problem worshiping Jesus. He is after all a member of the Godhead. As such I consider him to be God with the big “g”.

    Jay you’re getting dangerously close to Trinitarianism with that statement.

  54. Dando – you’re still assuming that you have the keys to this “club” but you don’t.

    I’m still waiting for you to cite your sources that show that your readers are defining “Christian” in some other way that what I have shown you.

  55. Doug,

    Assuming you are Mormon, I’ll point you to Alma 11 for my answer:

    28 Now Zeezrom said: Is there more than one God?
    29 And he answered, No.

    38 Now Zeezrom saith again unto him: Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father?
    39 And Amulek said unto him: Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last;

    44 Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil.

  56. Dando, when you cut and past a scripture from LDS.org, it includes the footnote references and produces statements like “cone Eternal God.”

    Just an fyi.

  57. Mormons are Biblical Christians, they are just not Traditional Trinitarian Christians. Since there is nothing about the Trinity in the Bible, I am OK being cut off from the Traditional (Trinitarian) Christians.

    By the way, Jesus said true worshipers of God worship the Father (John 4:24). I guess since most Traditional Christians ignore Acts 2:38, Acts 8:18 and Ephesians 4:11-20, it’s not a problem ignoring Christ’s explicit statement on whom true worshipers actually should worship. My experience is the vast majority of Christians don’t actually understand the meaning of the Greek word translated “worship”, nor its application or context in the New Testament. So being told we don’t worship the true Jesus is likewise no skin off my nose. It’s like being told by witch doctors a surgeon does not understand the fine art of bleeding a person to heal them. If it weren’t a serious subject, the arrogance would be hilarious instead of just sad.

  58. Dando-

    You warned Jay of his statements being “dangerously close to Trinitarianism.” I actually agree with Jay’s statement, and, as a Mormon, have no problem with labeling myself a Trinitarian … with one qualifier. I consider myself to be a Social Trinitarian, as do a number of Latter-day Saints I know (or at least know of – Blake Ostler the most prominent).

    To be fair, most of those individuals are intellectuals actively involved in academic scholarship (mostly graduate-degree seeking students in either History or Theology;), and I doubt many rank-and-file Mormons would know what Social Trinitarianism is.

    Now, my understanding is that while this is far from the “orthodox” Christian understanding of God, Social Trinitarianism is gaining wider acceptance, and those individuals who subscribe to it are still entitled to be considered a Christian. So my follow-up question is, If a Mormon is a Social Trinitarian, is he/she entitled to be called a Christian? Or is more at stake than simply the Mormon concept of God?

    To restate my earlier position, it is not especially important to me whether Christians consider Mormonism Christian or not, but based on the number of responses to this post, it obviously does to many (most?) Latter-day Saints.

    Lastly, I want to echo Seth R.’s comments that this has been a great post with a lot to think about, and I think your original post and subsequent comments are worthy of the description “heartwarming.” Thanks.

  59. Wow, this thread has boomed since I last looked at it last night. It would be a full-time job to keep up.

    Dando, I have one question: if LDS did or at least were easily allowed to worship Christ (as my scriptural references at least seem to allow), would they then be Christian? Is the Christ-worship factor your primary or perhaps only concern?

  60. Christopher,

    You can include David Paulsen and Daniel Peterson as at least two other prominent LDS thinkers who accept Social Trinitarianism. It all goes back to my earlier claim: we must distinguish between the different levels of God as it refers to the individual members of the Godhead and the Godhead itself. This is a distinction that Trinitarians and Social Trinitarians could agree with.

  61. David Paulsen defines it as follows:

    “The social analogy of the Trinity reasserts the religious teaching that the Godhead is composed of three substantively separate and distinct persons who are perfectly one in thought, word, intention, and action. Essentially, social trinitarianism begins with the construct of a ‘divine society’ and then bases the oneness of the Persons in the harmony and union of activity of that society” (Paulsen, “Reassessing Joseph Smith’s Theology in His Bicentenial,” BYU Studies 45:1, 66).

    I recommend reading Paulsen’s entire article, as well as Blake Ostler’s “Re-vision-ing the Mormon Concept of Deity.”

    For a respected Christian’s explanation of the social trinity (and his acceptance of the model), Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., “Social Trinity and Tritheism,” in Feenstra and Plantinga, Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement (University of ND Press, 1989).

  62. That last comment was mine (I didn’t realize I was logged in with a different name).

  63. You know, I really don’t understand why people get so upset about this. I mean, I can understand feeling like people don’t understand what your beliefs are, and misinterpreting. And I can understand the frustration of being kept out of a box that you feel you belong in.

    But, at the same time, when I was Mormon my thinking was always–well, if they don’t think I’m Christian, fine. I don’t always think that “Christians” (specific ones) act like very good Christians.

    The label is irrelevant–what it comes down to isn’t whether Evangelicals recognize you as a part of their group–it matters whether Jesus does. And since Jesus makes the decision totally apart from what the Evangelicals (or whoever) tell Him… then all that matters is that you’re right with Him and living after His pattern and direction.

    Maybe I’m looking at it too simply though… I might just generally be too laid back about this kind of thing to feel strongly one way or the other.

  64. The LDS church as well as many other Christian religions are evangelical in nature and want to share their testimony with others. I think LDS people see incorrect statements such as “Mormons aren’t Christian” as shutting everyone who sees that headline or article title out of even looking into the Mormons since they “don’t even believe in Christ” – and if they don’t really believe in Christ, they must be deceptive since they’ve tried to pass themselves off as Christian by putting “Jesus Christ” in their church name.

    It’s not about one person thinking LDS isn’t Christian. It’s about people publicly in sometimes large audiences making incorrect statements that could potentially turn people away from looking into the LDS church and what they have to offer and what they really believe.

  65. Pingback: The discussion is ongoing « Heart Issues for LDS

  66. But you know, rcronk, people make dumb/incorrect statements ALL THE TIME about all kinds of things!

    If it’s the Spirit that’s doing the teaching, it doesn’t matter what wrong things people have heard about the Church–the missionary work won’t be hurt.

    Within the LDS Church, I’ve heard people say some pretty damning (and incorrect) things about other religions… but again, just because people say dumb stuff doesn’t make it true.

  67. Kullervo – no, I just don’t like people spreading misconceptions about my beliefs, which essentially undoes missionary work and leaves people misinformed.

    katyjane – It’s true that people make incorrect statements all the time. But this isn’t just one person saying something dumb to another person – these are sometimes high profile people saying things into a microphone or typing them on the Internet or newspapers and reaching potentially millions of people and it seems that the “Mormons aren’t Christian” nonsense is becoming more popular of late. It seems that it would be more difficult for the Spirit to do the teaching if people don’t even let you in the door in the first place because “you’re not christian”. I’ve seen many people so closed off to even listening to what I have to say because they have complete garbage in their head regarding the Mormon church.

    And once corrected, they redefine the term in their own minds and then say it again with confidence. It’s just annoying, that’s all. I guess people can do what they want to – just as I can stand up against such disinformation when I want to.

  68. Wow! Dando, this is really a great discussion. I also have to thank Kullervo, whose comment (July 23rd, 6:58 PM) really opened my eyes to the issue here.

    Kullervo: the way I understand your point about switching congregations within the EV versus switching over to Mormonism, one could draw a parallel with the Mormon “fundamentalists.” Ask the average Mormon if the fundamentalists are Mormon and they’ll say “no way,” but ask the fundamentalist and they’ll say “of course—in fact, we’re the real Mormons.” (I’m not saying this is exactly the same, just analogous.)

    At any rate, your point makes perfect sense to me: When an EV says, “Christian,” he likely means “essentially interchangeable with the other Christian churches.” And I can see that Mormonism is not, by its own design.

    Dando: You keep making this one point that just doesn’t work for me: “[LDS] need to be clear that when they say they “believe” in Jesus, they don’t mean that they believe that he is God and deserves our worship. This distinction is PROFOUND to non-LDS Christians.” I am LDS and I absolutely believe that Jesus is God, that He deserves worship, and that I do worship Him—but I still doubt whether you will accept me as Christian. Can you confirm this?

    (By the way—the site is beautiful. This is my first visit, but I read several of the posts and discussions {keeping me up way later than I had planned!}. If you address my question somewhere else, please excuse my ignorance.)

  69. Hi Brian,

    You very well may be a Christian, I don’t know you. The issue (among others) is whether or not the LDS church teaches that Jesus is to be worshiped as God.

    Glad you found us. Thanks for the kind words.

  70. Dando – The _real_ issue at hand is that you are using a self-invented narrow definition of “Christian” (for which you have not provided _any_ evidence other than your own word) to misinform people.

    Please provide evidence that the generally understood definition of “Christian” is “one who worships Jesus as God.”

    I have provided evidence (from many Dictionaries (and even the Bible itself)) that the general public – those who will read this article – define Christian as someone who believes in Christ and follows His teachings. Mormons believe in Christ and follow His teachings and so your “Mormons aren’t Christian” statements are incorrect and I believe purposefully misleading.

    You are using the word “Christian” improperly according to the majority of English speakers (and Spanish too). You can define and use it within your own head (or even congregation – to your detriment and isolation) however you want to but the majority of the speakers of a language get to define the words of that language amongst themselves and therefore if you want to effectively communicate with the majority, you must use their definitions. Otherwise, you’re just sneakily misleading people.

    Will you please address this issue directly and provide some evidence for your argument? Pretty please? With sugar on top?

  71. Dando—Thanks for the warm welcome.

    I get that the issue is on a Church level, and my question is meant to understand that issue by distinguishing between my acceptance of “LDS doctrines” that makes me not Christian versus the rejection of “Evangelical doctrines” that makes me not Christian. (Of course, I recognize that both of us see our church’s respective doctrines as Christian doctrines, hence the quotes.)

    The bulk of your comments suggest that it is the later: “if the LDS would just worship Jesus then they could keep all their other weird ideas and we would call them Christians”—but I want to be sure.

    I know this question has been raised on another post on this blog (so I’ll move this over there, if you’d prefer), but it would help me to understand your position if I knew more about other self-proclaimed Christian churches who are not, in your mind, Christian—or are Mormons alone in this? I’m thinking of Catholics, Mennonites, 7th Day Adventists, and so on.

    And I’ll just note that the reason that I am interested in all this is that I had always assumed that when Evangelicals say that I’m not Christian that they mean a certain thing, but you’ve shown that they mean something different. I want to understand their (your) language.

  72. rCronk, words have multiple meanings in different contexts. There isn’t one true meaning determined by majority consensus.

  73. rCronk,

    your objection has been asked and answered. I’ve made it clear from the beginning that I was seeking a theological definition. And I agree, I made this one up, I made it up in an effort to help explain why non-LDS Christians don’t view the LDS church as Christian. It is not a complete definition.

    Brian,
    I view the Catholics, Mennonites, and 7th Day Adventist all as Christian. I do not think Evangelical = Christian. A more thorough response to what makes an organization Christian can be found at http://ldstalk.wordpress.com/2007/07/26/i-follow-that-dude-jesus/

    I’m not sure if the LDS church could be technically and theologically Christian if it just adopted the worship of Jesus into it’s practice and doctrine. There are some other things that may stand in the way. If a church worshiped Jesus to the exclusion of the Father and the Spirit, I don’t think it would be any more Christian than Mormonism.

    But I DO think that the church could still practice temple worship, baptism for the dead and hold on to the Book of Mormon and be considered Christian (although weird).

  74. Kullervo – Agreed. But I have yet to find Dando’s definition anywhere except from him. Nobody has cited any sources for that definition. I have cited many sources for a more commonly accepted and understood definition that the majority of people use and think of when they hear the word “Christian”.

    It’s really simple – use words how people generally use them (look in the dictionary to see how the majority use them) in order to get an accurate meaning across. If there’s not a general consensus on the meaning or if there’s ambiguity for a particular word, use a different word or phrase that is more precise.

    Tim – I get what you’re saying – I get why people say “Mormons aren’t Christian” – I get that they are using an invented definition perhaps for the purpose of distancing themselves or leading people away from investigating Mormonism. I get that the title of this article includes the words “Mormonism isn’t Christian”.

    What I’m asking for is a justification for that practice in the form of evidence. I have asked for any evidence that “Mormons aren’t Christian” would be taken in general in any other way than “Mormon’s don’t believe in or follow the teachings of Christ.” Knowing this, Dando and others who make such statements should honestly stop doing so because they’re misleading people. It’s dishonest.

    I’m asking for realization that this practice is misleading and should be stopped rather than just an explanation of why it may be happening.

    From the original article: “But the question is, at what point does a faith change a major religion’s core tenets so drastically that it no longer resembles its birth religion.” So the issue here is justifying calling Mormons non-Christian because they’re so different. It’s not about explaining that Evangelicals are using the word “Christian” improperly at all.

    So this article should be renamed, “Why ‘we’ have called Mormons non-Christian in the past and why ‘we’ should now stop saying ‘Mormons aren’t Christian'”. Not nearly as catchy, I admit.

    I’m really not trying to be a jerk here, I just want the solution provided along with the problem.

    P.S. Temple worship and baptism for the dead are biblical. So there’s another redefinition: “Weird = not like me”.

    Ironically, I am glad that this article exists and that people have had patience enough to reply to my rantings as I have learned a lot over the past few days. Thanks all.

  75. Are evangelicals Christian? We LDS folks worship the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The Bible provides ample evidence (from the Lord himself) that they are separate. Despite this, the existence of differing doctrines regarding the nature of the godhead/trinity among different religions is understandable. However, saying Mormons are not Christians is unacceptable. You may try to rationalize and justify this claim by pointing out doctrinal differences. But has it occurred to you that if we Mormons were to adopt your peculiar definition of “Christian” (i.e. only those who understand the true nature of the Godhead are really Christian) then we could just as easily say that you are not Christian. But do we say that? No. Because it would be a lie. We know you believe in Christ and try to follow his teachings despite your misunderstanding of his nature (even when the Bible is clear on the matter).

    The simple truth is that the assertion that Mormons aren’t Christians is a lie, and the misinformation it causes serves the purposes of the father of lies.

  76. Ok, Tim, so I read the post, although not the comments. I as an LDS Christian worship Jesus as God, and I would also contend that “MormonISM” supports this position too, as the BofM (an actual canonical, and uniquely LDS Christian, text) demonstrates clearly enough:

    Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world.
    And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come.
    And when they had all gone forth and had witnessed for themselves, they did cry out with one accord, saying:
    Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him.

    Moreover, you said:

    “I would contend that historically and traditionally, Christians have always recognized Jesus as God (capital G) and have always worshiped him as such. To worship Christ is to be Christian.”

    However, this definition is quite suspect because it calls into question the Christian-ness of virtually every New Testament writer, whose texts form the foundation of most modern Christian traditions. (And what about the Holy Spirit anyway?) Although I can’t commend everything in the following post, this disucssion at FPR is decent enough starting point (and it seems you have been there before!):

    http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2007/08/is-jesus-a-god-in-the-nt/

    Best wishes,

    TYD

  77. I love that BoM reference! As I’ve stated many times, I’ve got no theological beef with the Book of Mormon.

    I’ve asked Mormons why they don’t do as they Nephites (and Thomas) did and they’ve told me that in this new dispensation it’s been made clear by the prophets that they are to worship Heavenly Father (through Jesus). Bruce McConkie made this point most clear when he decried having a personal relationship with Jesus. http://www.zionsbest.com/relationship.html

    Would you disagree with McConkie and those other Mormons?

    Also you should try to peruse the comments, they’d be helpful to know what has already been discussed.

  78. Well McConkie was an apostle. No one with higher or equal authority has yet publicly refuted his statment. So I don’t know why I should trust you over him. Should I?

  79. Do you actually trust McConkie? But anyway, I haven’t heard repudiations of a number of aberrant opinions by old Mormon leaders that are no longer (or in some cases never were) commonly taught. Nor have I heard them repudiate any number of absurd biblical statements for that matter…

    In any event, I think I will take a canonical Mormon Christian text over a BYU devotional sermon.

  80. I would like to correct rcronk from July 23, 2007. I just found this blog, but wanted to make sure this person realized they mispoke on Stephen. It was said in the note that Stephen saw Jesus sitting at the right hand of God. The verse actually says STANDING, not sitting. This is significant in this time in history, but I won’t go into that now. The reference for that is Acts 7:55 in the Bible.

  81. In response to Tim’s post above:

    I don’t know if you have an NIV Study Bible, Tim, but I’d like to draw your attention to the study notes in it that are connected to John 10:30. John 10:30 says “I and the Father are one.” In reference to the word “one” the study note says, “The Greek is neuter—‘one thing,’ not ‘one person.’ The two are one in essence or nature, but they are not identical persons. This great truth is what warrants Jesus’ ‘I am’ declarations.”

    Having established that, consider that the word “God” is usually (not always) associated with the Father in the New Testament. Therefore, someone might say “Jesus is not God”—although I don’t think the LDS ever says that—and mean nothing more than “Jesus is not the Father.” Some Christians do say, “Jesus is not God,” without any intention whatsoever of removing Jesus from his oneness with God, that is, their oneness in the divine nature. The divine nature can be summed up with words such as “love” (1 John 4:8), “light” (1 John 1:5), “truth,” “eternal life,” “perfect holiness,” or “the Holy Spirit.”

    Jesus is always submitted to the Father, so he is an exact representation of God (Heb 1:3). God always flows through him freely. He has all the fullness of the Deity living in him (Col. 2:9). He was born of a virgin. . . . I could go on. But none of these precious verses necessitate, according to evangelical thought reflected in the NIV Study Bible, that Jesus be the same person as God when “God” used to refer to the Father.

    I hope I didn’t lose you. If you’re confused, pray about it, and the Holy Spirit will confirm what I’ve said.

    Thanks! God bless you, my friend.

  82. My point is that we can’t say the Mormon Church isn’t Christian because they make the Son and the Father into two persons.
    First, the Bible indicates clearly that they are two persons (John 8:17-18).
    Secondly, the ancient Trinity Doctrine says they are two persons (“God in three persons, blessed Trinity,” says the well-known hymn).

    Furthermore, the LDS definitely does not deny the divinity of Christ, that is, that Christ is one with God in love, power, word, righteousness, etc.

    Since your post above is old, maybe by now you’ve realized that the LDS is Christian. You’re getting there, at least!

  83. Let’s keep this simple shall we?

    What kind of Christian are you?

    A Protestant Christian?
    A Methodist Christian?
    A Lutheran Christian?
    A Baptist Christian?
    A Catholic Christian?
    A Trinitarian Christian?
    A Non-Trinitarian Christian?
    A Mormon Christian?

    There are many types of Christians. A Christian is someone who professes some type of belief in Jesus Christ and lives his teachings, period.

    a few verses…there are many others…Romans 6:16
    Mathew 25: 12

    When you meet him, he will know you and you will know him if you serve his children.

  84. A Christian is someone who professes some type of belief in Jesus Christ and lives his teachings, period.

    Is a Jew someone who professes some type of belief in YHWH and lives his teachings, period?

  85. What a great thread – glad it’s been resurrected.

    Kullervo’s first response is still very important for Mormon’s to think about.

    I also recall Jack puzzling over a Mormon explanation of why she is both a Christian and still in need of something else for salvation (Mormon baptism). Very helpful in understanding how EV’s view the term.

    I think this recent Rob Bell situation can also be helpful for Mormons in getting rid of their non-Christian complex. In short, traditional Christians very often are accusing each other of not being Christian! Much more than they accuse Mormons!

    Many Catholics believe there is no salvation outside the Church. Many Protestants, like Tim Keller, accept Catholics because they believe in the Trinity. Some creationists don’t accept Tim Keller (Tim Keller!) because he waffles on Genesis 1 and 2. And, of course, N.T. Wright is teaching “another gospel” because he doesn’t lineup behind Luther.

    Buck up Mormons! Read Paul’s letters some time. This fire’s been burning long before 1830.

  86. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but if you believe in Jesus Christ, you believe in His word, aka the Bible. It isn’t that you believe bits and pieces of His word, and the parts you don’t believe or that don’t line up with Mormon doctrine must be translated wrong. If Christ says we are saved by grace, not on good works so that no man can boast, why is it that Mormons have to do x, y and z to get to Heaven? If Christ says that he alone can hold the Melchizedek priesthood, why are there thousands of children running around with this title? Just to name a few, but there are hundreds of differences that are supposedly translated incorrectly and therefore not embraced by Mormon doctrine. I’ve always wondered though, if the Bible has been translated thousands of times, by renown scholars, and in hundreds of languages, how is it that not a single one has caught even one of these mistakes that Mormons claim are there? And going along with that, we know that Christ wants us to all be saved and be with him in Heaven, He says it, so why would He make His book so hard to understand and translate that we get it wrong?
    Source: I was a faithful and studious Mormon, and thankfully, I’ve been saved.

  87. If Christ says we are saved by grace, not on good works so that no man can boast, why is it that Mormons have to do x, y and z to get to Heaven?

    You sure that it was Christ that actually made that grace comment you are paraphrasing? You might want to check that.

    If Christ says that he alone can hold the Melchizedek priesthood

    And where does he say that? Be careful the argument in Hebrews is that the Melchizedek priesthood is superior to the Aaronic priesthood not that the Aaronic doesn’t exist nor that the Melchizedek is exclusive to Jesus.

    I’ve always wondered though, if the Bible has been translated thousands of times, by renown scholars, and in hundreds of languages, how is it that not a single one has caught even one of these mistakes that Mormons claim are there?

    Huh? You don’t think scholars can point our errors or mistakes in the bible, reams of contradictions and place where it is unclear, the documentary record is a mess…? I don’t know what bible you use, but 1Sam 13:1 usually has good notes about how mangled this verse is in the original manuscripts.

    we know that Christ wants us to all be saved and be with him in Heaven

    Do we? Google Limit Atonement? Not everyone would agree with you there.

  88. The differences between Catholics and Protestants is large enough to be noticable. The differences between Latter Day Saints and Protestants and Catholics is just as noticable and maybe greater. The differences of the LDS and the first century of Christianity (based on historical documents and the Bible) is not so noticable.
    The similarities between all four groups is wonderful. All four groups believe Jesus was the Son of God, came to earth to redeem mankind from sin, was crucified as a sacrifice and conquered death on the third day. I think all four groups would agree; this is the most important event that ever occurred in human history. This event is what defines Christianity. By definition, anyone who believes this has to be “Christian”.

    I, for one, do not care about the title “Christian”. The term “Christian” was dubbed by those who did not like them so much, a derogatory label. The same with the label “Mormon”. Why religious groups chose to hold proud to insulting labels is beyond my understanding. Fortunately, the LDS church has been trying to distance itself from that label.
    The ancient “Christians” were called “saints” by the original Apostles and today, in these “latter times” prophecied by Daniel, the name of “latter day saint” is a fitting label to self identify with.

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