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.”