I Follow That Dude —> Jesus

In my rather controversial post on whether or not Mormonism is Christian I was asked to answer the following two questions. I promised I would, so here are my answers.

1) How do you, personally define a “true Christian?”
I have two parts to this answer. The first is to explain what I think makes an individual a “true Christian”. I would say it is a man’s heart that makes a person a Christian. I think Jesus is ultimately the only good and righteous judge who can determine what a person’s heart is like. I do not have the ability, right or prerogative to say if anyone is a true Christian.

I think Jesus does set down some clear guidelines concerning what a person must do to follow him and enter the Kingdom. They included recognizing and repenting from one’s own sins and accepting Jesus as a perfect sacrifice for that sin and making him the Lord of one’s life. Doing so will produce inward and outward changes in a person’s life. For example, repenting means leaving your sin behind. Making Jesus the Lord of one’s life means that He gets to set the agenda and you pursue, and learn to love things that He loves. These are things that I expect to see in the life of a “true Christian.”

I DO NOT think that anyone has to pass a theology exam to be a true follower of Jesus. I DO NOT think that there is a check list of Christian service that a person must fulfill to be a true follower of Jesus. I DO NOT think that perfect Sunday church attendance is required to be a true follower of Jesus. I DO NOT think that there is a magical incantation that a person has to recite or perform and I DO NOT think that a person has to be in the right club to be a true follower of Jesus.

I DO think that a true follower of Jesus will develop a heart that will be interested in truth and correct belief, loving other people and worshiping in the community of other believers.

The second part is to answer what makes a Church a true Christian organization. Organizations obviously are not individual persons. Jesus called individuals to himself, not organizations. Organizations don’t go to heaven. Organizations and their leaders do have a responsibility to teach truth. Since organizations aren’t persons and don’t have hearts we do have the right to judge them. We SHOULD judge an organization based on its teachings and evaluate if they match up to truth. Followers of Jesus will pay close attention to His words and seek to understand if a church’s teachings match up to His.

I think that the Bible is quite clear on a number of core doctrines. A true Christian organization will teach these core doctrines and for nearly 2,000 years Christians churches have been unified on the following essential teachings:

1. The Bible is the true written message of God. [Psalm 19:7-11, 119:105; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:8; 2 Peter 1:20-21]

2. There is one God, who exists forever in perfect community as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. [Genesis 1:26-27; Deuteronomy 6:4; Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:8]

3. Jesus Christ is fully man and fully God. He is the perfect reflection of God’s character and glory. He lived a sinless life and offered himself as the only perfect sacrifice for the sins of all people by dying on the cross. All who believe in Him are declared righteous on the basis of His death. He rose physically from the dead and will return again to earth to reign forever with those who are His. [Matthew 1:18-25; John 1:14, 8:40,58, 11:33; Acts 1:9-11; Romans 5:8-10; Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:8]

4. Humans are created in the image of God, but each one has fallen short of God’s perfect standard and is in need of salvation. [Genesis 1:26; Romans 3, 5:12-19; Ephesians 2:1-3, 4:18-19]

5. Salvation from our sinful condition is a free gift from God to us. It is not something we earn or deserve. It is offered in grace and received by faith in Jesus Christ alone. Those who believe in Jesus Christ and call on His name are made right with God and given eternal life. [John 3:16, 14:6; Romans 3:28, 8:31-39; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:26-27,36-39; Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 Timothy 2:5-6]

A Church that does not teach these essential doctrines does not fit the historical, classical, theological definition of “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?
It seems reasonably possible to me that there are “true Christians” in the LDS church. It’s becoming apparent to me that there is a growing number of Mormons who are becoming willing to part from their church’s false doctrine. This indicates to me these individuals have an ever growing heart that seeks after the things Jesus loves and seek after truth. There are also a number of Mormons who act like Christians by extending grace and comfort to others. But all of these are outward signs and like I said it’s only the heart that makes a person a Christian.

Being a member of an organization does not make a person a true Christian. Jesus made it clear that there are many who claim to know him that do not. And there are a great many people in Christian churches who will some day be greatly disappointed. The Barna Research Group has done and is continuing to do great work in measuring the spiritual temperature of the American public. Something like 78% of Americans claim to be Christian. Only 30% of Americans have any recognition of Jesus as their ONLY means to salvation. 13% of Americans meet Barna’s definition of “Evangelical” regardless of church affiliation (participants are not allowed to self identify). So I would guess the number of “true Christians” in America would be no less than 10% and no more than 35%.

I have no idea how to quantify how many true Christians are in the LDS church. I would probably start by figuring out how many Mormons have allegiance to Jesus over the LDS church. Interestingly, Barna identified Salt Lake City to be the LEAST Evangelical city in the United States. An inside source tells me that self identified Mormons overwhelmingly state that “if a person works hard enough they can earn their way to heaven.”

Are There Evangelical Mormons?

http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=Topic&TopicID=17

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26 thoughts on “I Follow That Dude —> Jesus

  1. You preempted me! Seriously, my first guest post was going to reference the Barna Group as well. Though they arguably overstate the importance of religion and theology, and understate the importance of religiosity, they nevertheless perform a valuable service.

    —-

    Your definition of a “True Christian” is difficult to quibble with, since it can be stretched to accomidate the LDS view–not even point #6 excludes Mormon Christians. Even somebody who believes that “if a person works hard enough they can earn their way to heaven” could believe that it is only through God’s grace that they are able to work in the first place, and that their work can result in salvation only through the blood of Christ.

    The difference may simply be one of emphasis. Mormon Christians emphasize the following type of scripture:
    Matthew 16:27. For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.

    I’m glad you don’t believe Latter-day Saints aren’t Christian as a general rule, if I understand you correctly.

  2. “It’s becoming apparent to me that there is a growing number of Mormons who are becoming willing to part from their church’s false doctrine.”

    Well… Sort of…

    To explain, I think there is a powerful grace theology implicit in Mormonism’s own writings. But it’s been a bit neglected. Ever since the late prophet Ezra Taft Benson called for a re-emphasis on the Book of Mormon these writings have been sort of rediscovered. Ironically, the Book of Mormon is probably one of Mormonism’s strongest ties to mainline Christianity. It is quite replete with uniquely Christian teachings and ideas. Grace being a strong one, as I’ve noted on this blog before.

    Dando, have you ever heard of Stephen E. Robinson’s “Believing Christ?” I think his book is one of the best examples of where Mormonism may be heading in its relationship to Christ. But I don’t think it’s so much a matter of “parting” from our Church’s doctrines as much as discovering what was already lying there dormant.

  3. Though they arguably overstate the importance of religion and theology, and understate the importance of religiosity,

    Maybe we define the term differently, but I HATE religiosity. The less religiosity and the more authentic faith there was in Christianity, the better off the entire world would be. I think those who rely on religiosity are exactly the people Jesus calls goats in his parable.

  4. To explain, I think there is a powerful grace theology implicit in Mormonism’s own writings. But it’s been a bit neglected.

    I wasn’t just referring to grace. I think there are a growing number of Mormons who are now willing to say the priesthood ban was always wrong. There’s a growing number of Mormons who are willing to say that both Brigham Young and Joseph Smith taught some things which were not true and acted in some ways which were less than appropriate. There’s a growing number of Mormons who are willing to say that the faith promoting side of Mormon history may not be the factual. There’s a growing number of Mormons who do not feel every thing that comes from the office of the First Presidency is directly inspired.

  5. OK, I see what you mean.

    I think the faith-promoting side of Mormon history is factual, but it’s undoubtedly one-sided. This has bothered me for some time. I think it unduly shelters our membership and produces religious commitments that prove far too fragile when confronted with the more uncomfortable parts of our history.

  6. It’s becoming apparent to me that there is a growing number of Mormons who are becoming willing to part from their church’s false doctrine.

    Given the Mormon Church’s continued rates of growth, it’s also apparent that there are a growing number of other Christians who are willing to part from their respective churches’ false doctrines. :-)

  7. Peter,

    For 17 years, I was not an active member of the church, and until I had my name withdrawn from the church records, I was still counted as a member. I also know of many ex-Mormons that do not consider it necessary to have their names removed from the records. So what are the actual growth rates? And what is the retention rate? And how many members are still listed as members, even though they have been inactive for years?

    On another note, I have found from experience, as well as observation, that once a Mormon does leave the church, it is generally much easier for them to embrace a mainstream Christian church. This is because their intentions are pure, as is their desire to follow Jesus.

    And lastly, I don’t think anyone other than Jesus can determine who is a Christian. People can claim to be anything, but it is the true state of your heart and soul that is the determining factor. Everything else is just a label.

    All that being said, I am now living in a place (Pacific Northwest) that has a heavy Mormon population. While I am no longer a Mormon, for the first time in my life I can honestly say I truly love Mormons. I do not agree with their beliefs, but most of them are decent, loving, happy, family centered people who lift me up.

  8. Dando,

    Religiosity is a measure of a poll respondants’ religious engagement. Religiosity assesses variables like church attendance, daily prayer, donating money to the church, and so forth.

    Religion refers to the label affixed to the person: Methodist, Catholic, LDS, etc.

    That is, whether someone goes to church regularly is more important than the specific church they attend, for purposes of predicting the likelihood an individual will divorce, give to charity, volunteer their time, etc.

    The Barna Group polls frequently emphasize religion over religiosity. They put enormous energy into complicated definitions of “evangelical” or “born again,” at the expense of religiosity.

    That’s why their polls seem to deliver bad new. Sure, Christians may be just as likely to divorce as other people, but Christians who go to church weekly are much less likely to divorce than average, for instance. (If memory serves.) So, they could do a better job of accounting for religiosity.

  9. Poem,
    Good questions . . .

    As far as your last three short statements, I echo all three.

    And I am glad to hear of your love. May God greatly use you in your community.

    et

  10. Tim,
    I know that you have been through these things a number of times with other Mormons, but since we are discussing this issue on another post I think it is necessary to engage you here. First, you say that “I DO NOT think that anyone has to pass a theology exam to be a true follower of Jesus.” However, you make a list of 5 theological claims that I don’t think can be sustained.

    My brief response to each of your claims:
    1. none of these texts refer to the “Bible” because the Bible doesn’t exist yet.

    2. None of these texts say even remotely what you are attributing to them. No one knew about the Trinity in the form you are espousing until the day after Nicea.

    3. I have dealt with this issue in my post at FPR. Chacedonian theology is even less biblical than the Trinity.

    4. No argument there, but I wouldn’t say that all who are to be considered Christians must subscribe to it.

    5. Ditto.

    It should be noted that there are Christians all throughout history who have disputed these “essential” truths. Yours is simply a version of Christianity, not THE version.

  11. It should be noted that there are Christians all throughout history who have disputed these “essential” truths. Yours is simply a version of Christianity, not THE version.

    I’m not denying that there haven’t been Christian heretics all throughout Christian history.

  12. I also just want to say that your definition of a “true Christian” is completely contradictory. On the one hand you say that “it is a [person's] heart that makes a person a Christian.” On the other hand, you say that “A Church that does not teach these essential doctrines does not fit the historical, classical, theological definition of “Christian”.” You also say that Mormons are only “true Christians” when they have departed from the false doctrines of their church. You can’t say that adherence to true doctrines is not a necessary part of being Christian, and also say that acceptance of true doctrines is how we can discern true Christians.

    A final note, organizations are not agents. They cannot be held accountable for what they teach or what they believe because people teach and believe things. There is no such thing as an organization that is not made up of individuals, so it is impossible to separate individuals from organizations in the manner that you are attempting here.

  13. 2. None of these texts say even remotely what you are attributing to them. No one knew about the Trinity in the form you are espousing until the day after Nicea.

    That’s total crap. They didn’t invent the doctrine whole cloth at Nicea. That doesn’t even make sense.

    Anyway, as far as I understand, Nicea was simply a (near-unanimous) affirmation of what the churches already taught and believed.

  14. 3. I have dealt with this issue in my post at FPR. Chacedonian theology is even less biblical than the Trinity.

    Wait, what’s Chacedonian theology? Tim made more than one point in #3 anyway. Do you reject the entirety of what he said, or one particular point?

  15. Nicea was simply a (near-unanimous) affirmation of what the churches already taught and believed.

    Wow. No offense, but I invite you to study the fourth and fifth centuries of Christianity a bit more closely.

  16. I am sorry if I came accross as arrogant. I don’t mean for this to devolve into name calling and it reminds me why I generally avoid these conversations. I just get annoyed when people tell me what I have said is total crap and then demonstrate essentially complete ignorance about the subject.

  17. TT, Kullervo,

    Both views are espoused by scholars of early church history. I’ve heard mainline Christian scholars forcefully argue that Nicea was a natural next step in the progression of Christian doctrine, and the most necessary conclusion if you want to successfully marry the monotheism of the Old Testament with the henotheism of the New Testament.

    I have also heard scholars argue that Nicea was nothing more than a highly vocal minority faction of Christian intellectuals who shouted down all other voices and, as a result, got to arbitrarily say what God was going to be for centuries to come.

    I favor explanation number 2. I think that creedal Christianity is really nothing more than the victors writing history and then asserting that “this is how it’s always been done.” Anyone who didn’t agree with the victors ended up a “heretic.”

    So TT, I probably agree with your position. But it’s a complex problem, open to multiple interpretations, and certainly not a “no-duh.”

  18. And Kullervo, keep in mind that a lot of the historical record was written by the victors here. Dissenting writings seem to have had a nasty habit of simply disappearing. It leaves me suspicious that a lot of mainline Christianity’s read on the historical record is a bit self-serving – created and read with the aim of reaching foregone conclusions.

    But was Arianism, for instance, really a heresy? Who says so? Why are the Gnostics so easily dismissed? There is so much we don’t know about this period of history. And the scriptural record proves nothing one way or the other.

    I’m not saying Mormons are gnostics or Arians (though people have claimed both). Neither am I saying that Mormonism is proven by the historical record, or by the Bible. But I am saying that mainline Christian triumphalism is grossly premature.

  19. I favor explanation number 2. I think that creedal Christianity is really nothing more than the victors writing history and then asserting that “this is how it’s always been done.” Anyone who didn’t agree with the victors ended up a “heretic.”

    Of course you do; you’re Mormon. That’s the party line, no?

  20. I suppose someday we’ll look back on the Jeffs clan and somebody will assert that they were a much bigger faction than history shows and that there was a great amount of evidence about their claims of prophetic succession that was drowned out by the victors.

  21. I guess it is the party line.

    I’m just saying that any good historian always keeps in mind just how little we know. Historical inquiry is usually the process of taking scant written record and making inferences.

    For example, we don’t even have the full picture of what happened during the botched attempted allied invasion of the Netherlands in World War II. The historian who wrote the definitive historical account of the event – “A Bridge Too Far” – even said so in his book. He lamented the fact that too many of the eyewitnesses to events were no longer alive. This guy had combed through mountains of army logistical records, news reports, official documentation, original film footage, hundreds of interviews. And here he is saying that we will probably never know the whole story.

    And that was only a little over half a century ago.

    Imagine what the holes in our knowledge are for things that happened almost two millennia ago. Can you really be confident that Nicea was the dominant consensus of the time? Can you really be confident that whatever it was that Jesus Christ was personally preaching had survived being distributed over half the Roman Empire? How could the doctrine have remained pure when each community was practicing it in a high degree of isolation from each other? What was the give and take between core Christianity and the local customs and philosophies?

    I don’t mind you being confident in your religion. But it darn well better be primarily based in something more than appeal to the historical record. Because I think you are essentially flying blind there.

  22. I’ve heard mainline Christian scholars forcefully argue that Nicea was a natural next step in the progression of Christian doctrine, and the most necessary conclusion if you want to successfully marry the monotheism of the Old Testament with the henotheism of the New Testament.

    Seth, it isn’t that complex. I don’t disagree that Nicea was a logical outcome to what preceded it, but no one can argue with a straight face that it was identical to what was argued beforehand. Nor is it the only logical outcome. Given that there wasn’t a single chruch Father before Nicea that esposed Nicene doctrine, mine isn’t too much of a controversial or disputable statement. Heck, Augustine could barely get it right only half the time! His _On the Trinity_ is somewhat of an embarrassment from one of the greatest Christian minds who can’t even get Nicea right.

    Furthermore, anyone who thinks that Nicea was the “majority” position in Christianity before or after Nicea is simply mistaken. The Arians were not the Jeffs. Within a few decades after Nicea they controlled the empire and they were the “orthodox” position. This control was tossed back and forth around the empire for a long time. Further disputes arose between the Orthodox and the Nestorians, Monophysites, and others for the next several centuries.

    Orthodoxy is a historical and geographical phenomenon. This isn’t the “party line,” it is there for everyone to see.y

  23. Kullervo,

    My understanding was that you were at one point Mormon, but switched to a denomination within Christianity. Am I remembering correctly?

    I’m addressing mainline Christianity here.

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