Why It Matters Whether Mormons Are Christian

Kullervo offered this gem as a guest post.  You can see where he originally posted it here.

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The question of whether Mormons can be considered Christian is fairly central to interfaith dialogue, and is significant enough to have garnered national attention during the 2008 presidential campaign. It comes up every now and then on Tim’s most excellent blog, and as an ex-Mormon non-Christian who is nevertheless widely read and confident in his basic grasp of the world of religion and religious belief, I thought I would take a stab at untangling some of the mess. Fundamentally, the question and ensuing argument is an issue of semantics/framing: both sides are talking about something different when they talk about whether Mormons are Christians, and both sides feel like they have something extremely important–but again, totally different–at stake with regards to the answer. the resolution to the dispute is probably not as simple as forcing one or both sides to re-frame their dialogue, since the way it is framed is not arbitrary. But an awareness of the semantic mismatch and an understanding of why it matters to both sides would go a long way into at least setting the issue aside and reducing its potential for causing a ruckus.

From the individual Mormon’s perspective, I think there is a pathological fear of being misunderstood. I believe that a large number of Mormons, fed on Mormon historical accounts of mistreatment in the early days of the church and anecdotal hostility since then, fear that they will be discriminated against or that they will encounter hostility because of misinformation about Mormonism that has been perpetuated. In other words, a significant number of Mormons believe that 1) they face potential or present persecution, because of 2) lies, misinformation, and twisted truth about their religion. Thus, if they could get people to accurately understand who they are and what they were about, they would not be in danger. I think there’s also a belief that a large number of potential converts to the Church refuse to consider Mormonism as an option because of misinformation about it: indeed that the single biggest obstacle to the missionary effort is misunderstandings about the Church.

So, for the Mormon, it is important to promote accurate, descriptive picture of their religion for their safety and for the success of their missionary program. This is underscored and reinforced in the individual Mormon’s mind by the Church’s intensive and explicit public relations efforts over the last three or so decades. If the Church itself has been engaged so desperately in promoting a positive image, then it must be not only important and beneficial, but God’s intention for His Church.

So when the Mormon encounters a conservative Christian that says “Mormons are not Christians,” alarm bells go off. The Mormon, in this encounter, wants first and foremost to be descriptively understood: he wants to correct misunderstandings because he believes misunderstandings lead to persecution and prevent the missionaries from touching the hearts of the people they contact and teach. The Mormon believes, descriptively, that he is a Christian: in fact, he believes that his Church is actually the Church established by Jesus Christ, and from a dictionary/encyclopedia-standpoint, that makes Mormons Christians. To say otherwise is to spread damaging lies such as that Mormons do not believe in Jesus Christ, share Christian values, or believe in the Bible. And if those lies get (further) spread, individual Mormons will be persecuted because they are misunderstood and the missionaries will not be able to reach the people who are looking for the Truth.

(Lurking here is the presumption that if Mormons were correctly understood that they would not be persecuted except at the hands of the truly evil, and that the missionaries would be able to teach and baptize exponentially more people).

This also means–and this is crucial–that when the Mormon confronts someone who still insists that Mormons are not Christians despite being exposed to an accurate description, the Mormon is likely to conclude that the person is being aggressively dishonest, and intentionally slandering the Church.

Now, there may be some people out there like that, but most of them are well-known heads of countercult ministries, or pissed-off ex-Mormons who (whether they are justified or not), are angry enough to lash out by saying anything bad about the Church that they can. whether or not it is true (though they are usually not also conservative Evangelicals, so they are not really relevant to the topic). But most theologically conservative Christians who insist on the non-Christianity of Mormonism despite an accurate picture of what the Church believes and teaches do not do so because of an evil motive. There is a misunderstanding here, because when the Mormon and the Evangelical talk about the question of whether or not Mormons are Christians, they are not really talking about the same thing. The Mormons are talking about “Christianity” from a descriptive, historical, and sociological point of view, whereas the Evangelical is talking about “Christianity” from a theological point of view. I shall attempt to explain.

Conservative Protestants, as a general rule, do not believe that denomination matters. They do not believe that salvation is found in the Lutheran Church, or the Southern Baptist Convention, or in their Evangelical Free Congregation. Conservative Protestants believe salvation is found only in the person of Jesus Christ. Mormons believe that salvation is only available through Jesus Christ too, but they believe that the road to that salvation (or exaltation, whatever, semantics) is only available through the Church’s teachings and sacraments. To a conservative Protestant, a denomination has other meanings, but very few if any would try to claim that any one denomination is the “one true church,” because the one true church is Christianity, in other words, those followers of Jesus who have embraced his gospel and have found salvation through faith on his name. Mormons (and other exclusive denominations like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and, more often than not, the Roman Catholic Church) do not fit into this category because their understanding about the nature of Jesus Christ and the means of salvation are radically different: just the claim that it can only be found in fullness in one organization is enough to completely disqualify Mormonism.

In other words, Mormons don’t understand why Evangelicals won’t acknowledge Mormonism’s Christianity because Mormons do not realize what is at stake. Evangelicals do not think of themselves as Lutherans or Presbyterians or Nondenominationals, at least not in terms of their primary spiritual identity. They may recognize that as a matter of history they are members of a specific denomination (if they are) and that they have been designated “Protestant,” but their primary way of thinking about themselves religiously is as a Christian. Again, to a conservative Protestant, specific denomination does not matter. What matters is whether you are a Christian. This means a Protestant is free to move between denominations as much as he wants without worrying about it, as long as the denominations are teaching Christianity. Not Christianity in the sense of “a religion about Jesus,” but in the theologically significant sense of “the way to Jesus.” Mormons may talk about and believe important things about Jesus, enough for sociologists and librarians to categorize them as Christians, but what they teach and believe about Jesus is significantly different enough to make it a different religion than the one that conservative Protestants are practicing. I know of no Mormon that would dispute this. What the Mormon thus fails to understand is that the conservative Protestant calls his religion “Christianity.”

So when the Evangelical meets a Mormon who claims that Mormonism is Christian, the Evangelical hears the Mormon claiming that they have the same religion. That is flat-out not true, and it’s obvious by even a fairly cursory examination. So the Evangelical concludes that the Mormon is trying to be deceptive: trying to claim to be theologically compatible so as to lure converts into a religious organization that is actually an entirely different animal. It looks like a bait-and-switch, using the Evangelical’s faith as the bait. Understandably, this irks the Evangelical. Furthermore, the Evangelical is justifiably concerned about his friends and family and assorted loved ones: as conservative Protestants they operate in a religious environment where, provided the denomination is Christian (in the Protestant theological sense), one is free to switch from denomination to denomination without necessarily jeopardizing one’s salvation. When the Mormon Church claims to be Christian and insists that Evangelicals agree that it is, the Mormon Church creates a situation wherein Evangelicals may be lured into something they never meant to get involved in. And with Mormonism’s “milk-before-meat” missionary policy, it is not an unreasonable fear. And eternal salvation is at stake.

The Mormon may ask, “why do the Evangelicals get to decide what Christian means? Why can’t they just call their religion something else? Then there wouldn’t be a problem.” But that’s a particularly disingenous claim from a Church that sets a great store by the name of their religion. Like Mormons, conservative Protestants believe their religion is the one true religion. However, unlike Mormons, Protestants do not set theological significance by the organizational boundaries of a denomination. So the conservative Protestant’s religion is not the same thing as his denomination. He may be categorized historically as a Protestant, but he, like the Mormon, believes that he is in fact a true follower of Jesus Christ, a designation which he shares with people who have a common understanding of doctrine and practice, and since they believe they are the only true followers of Jesus Christ, they call their religion “Christianity.”

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148 thoughts on “Why It Matters Whether Mormons Are Christian

  1. I’m thinking one way to answer this question from an Evangelical perspective is to say “Mormons don’t offer a valid baptism, they have no priesthood authority and we should not take communion with them.”

    As far as I can tell Mormons would say the exact same thing about non-Mormons.

  2. But Tim: Gellies go further when they say that Mormons can’t pray with Christians, even though Mormons follow the fully biblical pattern of praying to the Father in the name of Jesus.

  3. I pray with Mormons. I know plenty of EVs who pray with Mormons. I don’t know a good reason not to pray with anybody.

  4. Ratticas, Kullervo’s brother posted this response on Kullervo’s blog:

    I think it needs to be mentioned that, at least historically, a lot of anxiety about the *Christianity” of Mormonism among Protestants comes not from ascertaining _whether Mormons claim to center their lives around Christ_ so much as skepticism whether the Mormons’ Christ is even the same Christ they believe in. Something sufficiently misinformed, fictional, twisted, or demonic, yet still going by the same name would obviously not count for most people.

    I could, for example, say that I am a supporter of president Obama . However, if I was misinformed enough about the actual nature of the president and his policies (let’s say that I believe he is a Japanese-American retired five-star general who wants to conquer the moon), then his other supporters would reasonably refuse to claim *me* as a kindred spirit. I could counter that I voted for Obama all the same, and the ballot still counted no matter what his characteristics were, and that might be a compelling argument to some; but it simply would not make me into a mainstream Democrat so matter how I spin it.

    From the perspective of a Protestant for whom claims about man-becoming-god, god having once been a man, are utterly heretical, Mormons calling their god “Jesus” is deceptive semantics. A Jesus without a trinitarian identity, a Jesus reduced almost to our level as a fellow child of an all-powerful God (which makes two gods now, big alarm), a Jesus who is consequently Satan’s big brother (whatever that means), even a Jesus who shows up anywhere other than the Bible– that just isn’t Jesus. Calling your made-up thing “Jesus” and saying we’re in the same camp just doesn’t cut it.

    This should not be a concept unfamiliar to Mormons, but they may fail to recognize that it is central to Protestant conceptions of Mormonism, and fundamental to Protestant suspicion surrounding Mormons’ identity as Christians. After all, in “Lectures on Faith,” Joseph Smith, Jr. asserted that a man had to have a proper conception of God in order to exercise faith in Him. Is it really so asinine that another church would feel the same way?

  5. Wow, what a great post, Kullervo. I think you’ve hit the nail squarely on the head. I can’t think of much else to add here, but I wanted you to know I truly enjoyed your post.

  6. I appriciated this line in the post “Conservative Protestants, as a general rule, do not believe that denomination matters…”

    Dr. Douglas Kelly points to Dr. John “Rabbi” Duncan’s comment “I’m first a Christian, next a catholic, then a Calvinist, fourth a paedobaptist, and fifth a Presbyterian. I cannot reverse this order” in the introduction to the first volume of his new systematic theology.

  7. Tim,

    You said:

    “I’m thinking one way to answer this question from an Evangelical perspective is to say ‘Mormons don’t offer a valid baptism, they have no priesthood authority and we should not take communion with them.’ As far as I can tell Mormons would say the exact same thing about non-Mormons.”

    However, if baptism is essentially unnecessary from a Protestant viewpoint (at least some Protestant viewpoints anyways), if the special priesthood authority that Mormons claim isn’t real, and if the Lord’s supper (communion, sacrament, etc.) isn’t essentially necessary either (I will note here, however, that Mormons do allow members not of their faith to take communion), then what do any of those things really matter at determiners of genuine Christian faith? It seems that Mormons being judged non-Christian by conservative Protestants (of course, many Christians of various traditions do think Mormons are Christians) still must come down to something else, shouldn’t it?

    Thanks.

    Best wishes,

    TYD

  8. I just finished reading an article by Mormon apologist Louis Migely in Vol 20, No. 2, 2008 of Farms Review. He makes some similar points.

    Part of the problem is that the typical faithful Mormon views herself as part of a historical narrative. Her faith is based on stories and IS a story in and of itself. So she is going to be very confused when told she is not Christian even though she shares their founding stories.

    But this is not how the typical faithful Evangelical views his own faith life (yes, I know I’m generalizing – bear with me). He views himself more as a part of a theological world paradigm. Therefore, having the correct set of metaphysical concepts and theological beliefs is going to be paramount. When he encounters a Mormon, his first concern is going to be determining whether she shares those crucial theological concepts (Trinity, grace vs. works, creation ex nihilo, sovereignty of God, etc.).

    Let’s take the common arguing point of “which Jesus?” The idea that Mormons worship a different Jesus.

    First off, I’d like everyone to think really hard as to why this question even matters in the first place. Assuming we do have a “different Jesus,” so what? I think the answers will probably illustrate my point.

  9. Yellow,

    I don’t know if I’m answering your question exactly. Your last two sentences were hard to follow.

    Baptism, communion and authority are all important to Protestants. They aren’t important for salvation, but they are still important. If anything the explanation was an attempt to help Mormons frame the discussion in terms of “the one true church”. What Evangelicals mean when they say “Mormons aren’t Christians” is that they aren’t part of the one true church.

    many Christians of various traditions do think Mormons are Christians

    Interested to hear who. The only ones that I can think of that might say that would be sects that would also be considered “not Christian” by Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox.

  10. “Interested to hear who.”

    My Methodist grandmother for one. Not every Christian is quite as concerned with boundary maintenance as some.

  11. Tim,

    Here you go:

    http://pewresearch.org/pubs/648/romney-mormon

    I believe Pew may also have updated the information since this publication, but I am not entirely sure.

    Like Seth, I also know a number of “conservative/Orthodox” Christians of a variety of traditions who believe Mormons are Christian (or at the very least that some Mormons are genuinely Christian). Two of whom, actually, are/have been quite involved with your Alma Mater.

    My original point was that if those issues that you listed aren’t essential for salvation or for truly determining whether someone is a Christian, then there is(are) some other factor(s) influencing why some conservative Christians think LDS Christians are not Christians. So I think those issues and their coherence are what need to be discussed.

    Best wishes,

    TYD

  12. Well I wouldn’t at all disagree that there are individual Christians who think Mormons are Christians. Our nation as a whole is becoming more and more theologically universalistic, so it doesn’t surprise me to hear some individuals are opening up the boundaries of “Christian”.

  13. Keep in mind that the whole point of my post is not at all to attempt to answer the question of whether Mormons are Christian. The question has to be first problematized because the two sides are not really asking the same question, even though it sounds like they are, and they have important reasons for asking what they are asking the way that are asking it.

  14. I am having difficulty with the view theological doctrines separated from history. It is not only an over generalization to claim that protestants have a “theological world paradigm” it is an oversimplification of the importance of Salvation History in our beliefs. Just because people reject Mormon theological beliefs without the need for referencing them to the overall redemptive historical plan of God does not mean that the history of creation, fall, and recreation is not vitally important.

    I also find it odd that people would point to the LDS view as one that is historical while Protestants are concerned with theological correctness. Much of the disagreement between us is centered on history. Did the Great Apostasy occur or not? We may share the New Testament but from the Protestant view “Church history” did not take a 1800 year break.

  15. Tim,

    If I am not mistaken though, Tim, from a protestant perspective, it really has to come down to a collection of individual views to determine whether protestants think LDS Christians are Christians, since there is no formal ecclesiastical church structure that is religiously authoritative over all conservative protestant Christians, no? And according to the Pew research cited above, quite a number (a majority, actually) of other Christians, including a sizable portion of white Evangelicals, think that LDS Christians are Christian.

    Now, getting back to the original post, I think it is more worth discussing the reasons, and the internal coherence of those reasons, as to why some conservative Christians think LDS Christians are not Christian. Now perhaps I am assuming more about your own position on this matter than is warranted, but I personally would like to know your significant reasons (or the significant reasons of other conservative Evangelicals who frequent this forum) as for why LDS Christians are not Christians, and for you (or them) to coherently show how, from within your (their) conservative protestant viewpoint, such reasons truly demonstrate that LDS Christians do not have genuine saving Christian faith.

    Best wishes,

    TYD

  16. Historical not as in a historical claim to the brand name, but as in, in terms of the history of religion, Mormonism falls in the category “Christianity.”

    You are using the word “history” but again, you are meaning theology. You can’t step outside of your viewpoint at all.

  17. My experience is that Protestants will usually refuse membership in the club on purely theological grounds. I’m talking about respectable Protestants like Mouw or McDermott or Blomberg here. These guys will usually base their rejection of Mormonism on theological grounds. Basically, they seem to take the position that Mormonism would be more or less tolerable if the theology was within the parameters of creedal Christianity. All that stuff about Joseph Smith would be ugly in their mind, but not of great concern.

    The counter-cult ministries on the other hand WILL go after Mormons on their history. They do this because they seem to instinctively sense that Mormons are very much historically oriented and that if they can cripple the narrative for a Mormon, it hurts the most.

    But my experience is that countercult ministries (like Mormon Research Ministries – to name one of the least dirty) attack Mormon history by totally ignoring their own history. The genesis of Christianity is very much shrouded in doubt and the narrative is currently up for grabs. Counter-cultists typically act like the narrative of traditional Christianity is a settled matter, but it really isn’t.

    So the mode seems to be attack the Mormon history just to hurt Mormonism. But reserve membership in “Christianity” for those with correct theology.

    Again, I think the way to really illustrate this point would be to ask:

    Why does having the “correct Jesus” even matter? Who cares?

    I think the answers will probably reveal a lot if handled well.

  18. “An awareness of the semantic mismatch and an understanding of why it matters to both sides would go a long way into at least setting the issue aside and reducing its potential for causing a ruckus.”

    Amen to that statement. And this is another example of why it would be important to insert applicable modifiers in front of the word “Christian”.

    One of the best posts on this topic was at BCC: “Are Mormons Christians? Are Post Toasties corn flakes?”
    http://bycommonconsent.com/2009/01/12/are-mormons-christians-are-post-toasties-corn-flakes/

    Also, “it is important to promote accurate, descriptive picture of [any] religion” period. Forget about missionary work. Let’s just start with accurate and honest depictions of ALL faiths.

    I’m not really interested in the “different Jesus” argument, but I recommend an excellent post: “The Mormon Jesus and the Love of God”
    http://latterdayspence.blogspot.com/2009/04/mormon-jesus-and-love-of-god.html

  19. However, the argument doesn’t make sense, Mormons are not purporting to be worshiping anything other than the Jesus of the New Testament, i.e. the same Jesus.

    The question regarding whether Mormons are Christians comes down to whether you are speaking in secular context or a religious context. In a religious context Mormons can have no argument with not being considered Christians by Protestants, everyone is entitled to their opinion on who is a “true” follower of Jesus.

    But put in a secular context, the similarities vastly overpower the differences, which seem generally trivial.

    Bent as we are on studying religion’s existential conditions, we cannot possibly ignore these pathological aspects of the subject.

    The whole debate reminds me of this observation by William James in Varieties of Religious Experience

    It is true that we instinctively recoil from seeing an object to which our emotions and affections are committed handled by the intellect as any other object is handled. The first thing the intellect does with an object is to class it along with something else. But any object that is infinitely important to us and awakens our devotion feels to us also as if it must be sui generis and unique. Probably a crab would be filled with a sense of personal outrage if it could hear us class it without ado or apology as a crustacean, and thus dispose of it. “I am no such thing, it would say; I am MYSELF, MYSELF alone.

    Part of the debate is about controlling the boundaries between the two religions and part of the debate is attempting to monopolize the title “Christian” in public life. I don’t see any “objective” reason why Protestants should have a secular monopoly on the term “Christian”. They can certainly have claim to their distinctive “species”, but the “genus” seems to encompass much more than their views on the subject.

    I have always called my religion “Christianity” and it has never been Protestantism.

  20. Kullervo, besides being a rather disproportionate comparison, that wasn’t really an answer.

    Why does it matter if you have the wrong idea about Jesus?

  21. Jared, if it comes to that, the vast majority of the Christian world in the Middle Ages wasn’t even in Europe.

    During the Middle Ages, the city of Baghdad ALONE had more Christian churches than all of England. The Christian population in Persia, Central Asia, and even India and China dwarfed that of Europe.

    And I can tell you that their notions of theology were QUITE different than that cooked-up in religious backwaters like Rome and Germany.

    Again, I’m saying that Protestants act like their history is a done-deal. They proceed on purely theological grounds because they think their history has been correctly told and accounted for. Nothing more to see here folks. We’ve got the whole narrative set in stone.

    Not even close.

  22. Well, that’s kind of my point.

    I’m not sure the definition even matters to begin with.

    I feel like Mormons have allowed their counterparts to set the debate agenda – which puts us on the defensive and skews the whole conversation in the aggressor’s favor.

    Why is orthodoxy even important to begin with?

    Why have we allowed Protestants to assume that it is – uncontested?

  23. Sigh.

    None of that is the point. All of the Mormons and Protestants here are displaying exactly the behavior I described in my post. The Mormons have their panties in a wad about wanting to be called Christians, the Evangelicals have their panties in a wad about calling the Mormons Christians, both are talking about something completely different, and both have an enormous amount at stake: so much that they can’t even step outside of their heads for a second to have a meta-discussion.

    We’re not talking about the question here, we’re talking about how we talk about the question, and why.

    But Jared C., Jesus was most definitely not the guitarist for Led Zeppelin. Jimmy Page is one of the High Gods of guitar. Do not blaspheme.

  24. Can an administrator please release my comment awaiting moderation? I think it went there automatically because I included two links…

  25. Seth,

    Can you provide a reference for “during the Middle Ages, the city of Baghdad ALONE had more Christian churches than all of England” I have done a bit of reading on Baghdad and driven through the “old Christian quarter” a couple of times and this is news to me.

    I do not know how many churches were in all of England, but Baghdad had 11 monasteries and 12 churches at its peak in late tenth century with the completion of the church of al-Tiqa.

  26. The whole point is about how your entrenched viewpoints and the emotional baggage (legitimate or not) you attach to it prevents you from even having the conversation, while at the same time the baggage is the reason you feel the need to have the conversation in the first place.

    And here you all are, going at it in perfect illustration.

  27. Kullervo,

    Fine, my emotional baggage is loading me down, or I asked for a reference because I may have the incorrect information on a region of the World that continues to have a particular interest to me (legitimately or not).

  28. Kullervo–

    Do EVs regard Catholics as Christian or non-Christian?

    If Catholics are Christian, then arguing that mormons are not because they believe that salvation is found through Jesus AND the sacraments of the church, doesn’t make sense.

    And it would lead me to believe that the “non-christian” label given to mormons has as much to do with other beliefs rejected by EVs, like modern day prophets, continuing revelation, and the non-trinitarian Jesus.

    Of course, saying Catholics aren’t Christian, brings up a whole other set of problems.

  29. Rob, as far as I know, many EVs would say Catholics are not Christian, theologically speaking. Some more generous Evs would say they are Christian, but individual Catholics may be more or less saved, i.e. Christian, depending on how close or far they are from true Christianity in their beliefs and practices. The Catholic Church tolerates a much higher degree of dissent and heterogeous-ness than the Mormon Church does.

    The “whole other set of problems” are only problems if you’re talking about history, origins of religion, and sociology of religion, which EVs are not. Maybe Catholicism belongs in the same category of world religions as Protestantism, but EVs don;t care about that, because it has nothing to do with who is a Christian and who is not: Christians are people who have been redeemed by Jesus, not people who profess belief in him.

    Again, I want to emphasize that: conservative Protestants believe that Christians, followers of Christ Jesus, are those people who have accepted Jesus and been redeemed by his sacrifice, not just anyone who professes to believe or follow Jesus. And they’ve got some pretty good “depart from me ye cursed” scriptures to back up their position. You might think they are wrong about who is redeemed and who is not, but since they believe their own religion is true (just like you believe yours is), they’re not going to change their theological lexicon to please you.

  30. Hey everyone, remember that I’m neither Mormon nor Evangelical. I’m not even Christian, and I think that gets lost in the fray sometimes.

    The reason I may be appearing to back the Evangelical position in the discussion is not because I think they are right, but because I think that Mormons have a harder time wrapping their head around the Evangelical position than vice-versa. So I think in interfaith dialogue, the Evangelical position needs the most expounding/explaining.

    Although, as Gundek showed, an individual EV may eb too immersed in his point of view to be able to understand what Mormons are trying to say, either.

  31. “We’re not talking about the question here, we’re talking about how we talk about the question, and why.”

    I think you correctly identify the motivations why people are on the sides they are in the debate. But,this only seems to move the debate to use arguments that a third party could accept.

    I think Kullervo points out that Protestants (internally) are using the term in a somewhat different sense that Mormons . But to debate the question based on a misunderstanding of the sense you are using the term is a bit silly.

    It seems reasonable for a Protestant to say, yeah Mormons may be considered Christians in one sense, i.e. in that they worship and follow the Jesus described in the New Testament, but when it comes to religious issues, they are definitely not “real” Christians.

    it seems unreasonable to say “We are the only true Christians and its simply not correct to use the term in any other sense but our theological/religious sense”

    Its like a Native American saying that all of us white people are not real “Americans”. In one sense they are right, but in one sense they are not. I would seem silly to insist that the term like “American” only be used in a certain sense.

  32. Yellow,

    I wouldn’t say that a Pew Survey that allows people to self-identify as Protestant has any theological or moral significance as to what Protestant churches believe or how they teach their people to believe.

    75% of the country says they are Christian. Does that jive with your experience? Can Muslims correctly claim to understand Christianity based on what the majority of Americans believe?

    Most Christian churches have no statement at all about whether or not Mormons are Christians. The Catholic and Southern Baptist churches would be an exception.

    For my own take on it (which is not the point of Kullervo’s post) you can go here: https://ldstalk.wordpress.com/2007/07/23/with-fear-trembling-mormonism-isnt-christian/

  33. Seth,

    Would it make a difference if I said I loved your children as I love my own, but mis-identified Jared’s kids as yours? Who would actually be receiving my love (and $2 bills on their birthdays)?

  34. Seth please explain why it’s not a good comparison.

    If it’s “because Jesus is bigger than that and he shouldn’t care”, then please tell me why he would be so concerned about the proper ordinances and priesthood being performed.

  35. It’s because we haven’t picked the wrong guy. We’re both talking about the same guy. It just you say he does X and I say he does Y.

    There’s no worry about the wrong kid getting 5 bucks.

  36. Kullervo,

    I understand perfectly why Mormons consider themselves Christian and I think that you have explained one of the reasons that conservative Protestants reject that claim very well.

    I understand that as a confessional Protestant I am in the extreme minority in evangelicalism. My point evidently poorly stated is that many conservative protestants, especially confessional protestants, regard the catholic Church as a covenant community with a specific history. Mormons reject that history as false, this rejection alone serves as a justification for many to reject Mormonism without examination of any particular Mormon theology.

    Seth made the observation that his “experience is that Protestants will usually refuse membership in the club on purely theological grounds.” I think that this coincides with your post and is fundamentally true for many Protestants. My point is only that there is a sizable minority reject Mormonism because Mormonism rejects the redemptive history of the covenant community in the Church.

  37. CC, you beat me to it. If someone says I am not Christian, I simply reply, How do you define a Christian?”.

    On the basis of the EV definition of Christian, I don’t care that I am “not Christian.” What I do care about is covered on Clean Cut’s blog (linked above):

    To those who don’t know or don’t care about the nuance attached to the term “Christian” as it is used by EV’s, it obscures the fact that Mormons, Catholics, and Orthodox DO believe in salvation through the Jesus of the New Testament, even if we believe some radically different things ABOUT Christ (as I understand it, Catholics and Orthodox are not “Christian” in the sense we are talking about).

    It seems to me that for EV’s, “Christian” is synonymous, as Tim says, with “member of the true Church” or even in some cases, “saved person.” The problem I see is that EV’s appeal to “two or three gathered in my name” for their authority. So why aren’t 2 or 3 (or 130) Mormons/Catholics/Orthodox gathered in Christ’s name “Christians?” Maybe not everyone in the congregation is a “true” follower of Christ, but can EV’s claim that every single person in their pews on Sundays is a “true” follower of Christ? Given the results of our recent testimony meeting in which 13 of 16 testimonies were specifically about Christ, is it really your place to say that we aren’t gathered in His name?

    Moreover, inasmuch as “Christian” means “member of the true Church” then Mormons/Catholics/Orthodox could, by Tim’s logic, declare that THEY alone are Christian and everyone else is not Christian. But that would obscure the true issues and lead to bad feelings – just as the EV use of the term “Christian” does.

    In some cases, the EV term “Christian” means “someone who believes what I believe about Christ,” which means you can exclude whoever you want from “Christianity.” It’s kind of a given that Mormons, EV’s, Catholics, and Orthodox believe different things about Christ, so EV use of the term “Christian” again becomes pointless and merely serves to obscure what we really ought to be talking about – the doctrine of Christ!

    In the end, the debate just devolves into a discussion of semantics, rarely leads to good feelings on either side, and thus does no good to promote anyone coming to know the true Jesus, regardless of which religion is the way to the true Jesus.

  38. Seth, the whole point is that you think you’re talking about the same guy, the Evangelicals/conservative Christians don’t think you’re talking about the same guy, because you don’t believe in the stuff that they think is critical to believing and understanding.

  39. katyjane,

    But what is the “stuff that they think is critical” (is there actually an agreed upon list of items?), and can it really be coherently demonstrated from within their own worldview and perception of history that LDS Christians do not or cannot have genuine saving faith in Jesus because of these views or practices? I don’t know if you are one of these individuals or not, so perhaps I am asking the wrong person to engage the question.

    Best wishes,

    TYD

  40. Anyone who trusts in the complete work of Christ on the cross to give them life, the forgiveness of sins, and salvation is a Christian.

    This faith is not something that we conjur up on our own, but it is a gift of God.

    We had a class on Mormonism at our church and someone asked the pastor, “Could there be true Christians in the Mormon Church?”

    The pastor, without skipping a beat, said, “Yes…and there might even be some here.”

  41. The pastor did add that he finds it difficult to see how there could be true Christians in the Mormon Church, because of their strange theology (denying that Jesus is God- for one thing) and also because of their relience on the self and good works.

    But he said, “God can make the stones shout if he so desires.”

  42. Well, that’s the thing theoldadam. We don’t deny that Jesus is “God.”

    We just reject the traditional Christian definition of “God.”

    And this still leaves the question of why having a correct definition of God even matters to begin with. I think the answers to this question would probably demonstrate Kullervo’s point rather well.

  43. Seth said:
    It’s because we haven’t picked the wrong guy. We’re both talking about the same guy. It just you say he does X and I say he does Y.

    Good point. Would you say that someone who says ‘Jesus didn’t die on a cross for our sins’ can rightly call themselves “Christian”? I would not.

    And for what it’s worth, I’d say Mormons are more Christian than liberal denominations that say Jesus didn’t have a bodily resurrection. If I said that in a Pastor’s conference I’d probably get some strong reactions, but with a little bit of explanation I think most would agree with me. (without conceding that Mormons are Christians)

    Tom,
    Most Evangelicals will say that Catholics and Orthodox are Christians. They (evangelicals) may not believe those individuals to be saved, but they’d put them in the same category as themselves concerning the use of the word Christian.

  44. We just reject the traditional Christian definition of “God.”

    I guess that is a problem.

    It still boggles my mind that people actually believe that God started out as a person.

    Then, where did this person come from?

    I know why my pastor made mention of “strange LDS theology”.

  45. Bingo. Mormons fail to believe things about Jesus which Evangelicals believe are his essential characteristics. Logically, if you believe in “Jesus” without his essential characteristics, you’re not believing in the same Jesus. That’s the whole point of essential-ness.

    Now, Mormons and Evangelicals may disagree on what characteristics are in fact essential, but that is an essentially irresolvable conflict, since there’s no clear, agreed-upon objective standard for what is essential.

  46. It doesn’t have to be that “God started out as a person”. It’s that God right now is a person. God could still have always been God–but God happens to be of the same kind or species as us. He’s a man in the same sense that Jesus (as God) is a man–an exalted man. For LDS, God is not some “one of a kind” spiritual essence. He’s a human being, like us, but clearly different in the sense that He is perfectly God. Nevertheless, there’s not such a bright ontological gap between God and mankind as there is with Creedal Christians.

  47. theoldadam,

    That question illustrates another common assumption among traditional Christians:

    That everything has to have an origin from nothing, except for one “final cause” which we term “God.”

    Mormons hold that existence is co-eternal with God. He did not produce the universe from nothing, but from pre-existing eternal material. It also holds that all human identity is co-eternal with God.

    So if we accept the idea that God was once a “man like me” on some planet somewhere (which I should point out – not all or even a majority of modern Mormons necessarily believe), then under Mormon doctrine – he didn’t “come” from anywhere. He always was – just like you and me.

    Mormonism rejects that anything ever comes from nothing.

    Which I think illustrates yet another way in which Protestants just don’t “get” Mormonism. You are coming from an entirely different set of assumptions about the universe.

    But it’s not as strange as you think.

    After all, you’ve already united three beings into one “God.”

    Why not 5?

    Why not 100?

    Why not millions?

  48. (PS: I think you’ll find that some LDS believe God has always been God and some LDS believe that eons ago before our “beginning” God became the God He is now, but it was so long ago it’s practically as though God has always been God. While I don’t see how it matters much to our present right now, I happen to lean towards the former idea.)

    see my post “On God, Intelligence, and Atonement”
    http://latterdayspence.blogspot.com/2009/05/on-god-intelligence-and-atonement.html

  49. The Bible speaks of the three persons of the Godhead, that’s why not a 100.

    And for us, God always was , and always will be.

    We are His creatures and then He makes us His children.

    We are not partners in anything. We belong to Him.

    Yes, we certainly do have some huge differences.

    I’ll stick with the Bible’s version of God, thank you very much.

  50. Also, Seth, I personally think many LDS misinterpret Joseph Smith. When we say “as man is God once was”, I don’t believe Joseph was saying that he too was once a sinner in need of a Savior. Joseph was saying that even the Father, like Christ, had a mortal experience. Even Christ was once as we are now. (But nobody’s saying that Christ was a sinner and needed a Savior–quite the opposite).

  51. Theoldadam, contrary to the impression you may be getting from Seth, Joseph Smith didn’t contradict the Bible, and Joseph taught that the pluraity of Gods within the Godhead was only three (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost). I believe that in becoming “one” with Them (see John 17) we’re not absorbed into the Godhead, but become “gods” by grace.

  52. theoldadam,

    That’s another assumption.

    Who says that just because the Bible says three, that it says ONLY three.

    The Bible does say three.

    But it does not say ONLY three.

    This is an argument from silence – which Protestants insert their own assumptions into. Namely – the assumption that the Bible is all there is to say on the matter.

  53. I believe everything that God wanted us to know about Him is contained in the Bible.

    I also believe that our wanting to be ‘as God’ or to become gods… was the nature of the 1st sin and is the nature of all sin.

    God doesn’t want us to become gods, but His children.

    He is God and that is enough.

    He is trying to kill us off, not prop us up.

  54. theoldadam,

    I’m not trying to argue this point with you. I’m pointing out Protestant assumptions.

    The ontology of God is a big area for assumptions.

  55. If all we “need” to know about God is that which is contained in the Bible, then Latter-day Saints are covered too. It just so happens to be that we also believe that not all truths are contained in the Bible; certainly we can’t be damned for believing too much about God.

    By any means, the essence of our faith is in Jesus Christ and His atonement–that’s what imperative for us. The details about God the Father’s mortal experience aren’t essential. The Bible basics are just fine.

    As for the “first sin”, I think C.S. Lewis put it best. The first sin had more to do with selfishly thinking one could set themselves up to be independent from God (as opposed to eternally “one” with Him):

    “The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first—wanting to be the centre—wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race. Some people think the fall of man had something to do with sex, but that is a mistake. . . . What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come . . . the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

    According to the apostle Peter, God wants us to “partake of [His] divine nature”. According to Paul, we can become “joint heirs with Christ”. The purpose of deification/exaltation is to take mortal man and transform us through grace to be like God. What else could it mean to “partake of the divine nature”? True worship is emulation.

    Certainly there’s a danger in thinking that we will become gods if Latter-day Saints don’t recognize that it will only be in/through a relationship WITH God, not independent of Him. Our happiness is tied up with His happiness. We recognize that we will be connected with Him through our covenant relationship for eternity.

    “Throughout the eternities, Mormons believe, they will reverence and worship God the Father and Jesus Christ. The goal is not to equal them or to achieve parity with them but to imitate and someday acquire their perfect goodness, love and other divine attributes.” http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,317272,00.html

    C.S. Lewis, though not a Mormon, certainly understood and accepted a notion of theosis (not necessarily the LDS notion but a notion nonetheless) more strongly than is usually discussed today. Here’s how he put it:

    “It may be possible for each of us to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden, of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you may talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and corruption such as you now meet if at all only in a nightmare.”

    I provided citations for those quotes on my post: “The Chief End of God”
    http://latterdayspence.blogspot.com/2009/08/chief-end-of-god.html

  56. The problem, oldadam, is you all aren’t using just the biblical teachings about the Godhead to exclude Mormonism from Christianity, you’re also using abiblical, postbiblical creeds, philosphies, and understandings.

    In the end, you end up excising Mormonism because we don’t make the same assumptions and interpretations about biblical data, not because we don’t accept the same biblical data.

  57. The great Creeds of the church are derived from the Bible.

    Nothing in the Creeds isabiblical or extrabiblical.

    You don’t have to believe it (the Bible or the Creeds)

    That is up to you.

    We believe them.

  58. That the creeds are entirely biblical is another common Protestant assumption.

    Another common assumption is that when a Mormon talks about “becoming a god” that the Mormon must obviously mean a god independent of God the Father.

    You do this because of your Highlander-style “there can be only one” universe. Obviously, only one being can ever have all the attributes of divinity, and the moment those attributes are shared, then that being is no longer sovereign… etc, etc…

    But this is not the Mormon paradigm.

    When we talk of being gods, it is in perfect and complete UNITY with God the Father. So there is no Mormon notion of rebellion against the Father in our aim of godhood. Thus Lucifer’s temptation of Eve is utterly irrelevant to any Mormon doctrine of theosis.

  59. Sure. I think we can agree to disagree about the biblical basis of the creeds for now (since this probably isn’t the correct thread to do it anyway).

  60. Pingback: Taking control of the Mormon conversation — Another Look at Ballard at Mormon Matters

  61. Tim,

    Most Evangelicals will say that Catholics and Orthodox are Christians. They (evangelicals) may not believe those individuals to be saved, but they’d put them in the same category as themselves concerning the use of the word Christian.

    If Kullervo is correct in his assessment of EV’s excluding Mormons from Christanity, on what basis are Catholics and Orthodox included? The way I’m reading Kullervo, Catholics and Orthodox Christianity are excluded.

    Based on some conversation at “I Love Mormons” I think there are at least some who would disagree with you and WOULD exclude Catholics and Orthodox.

  62. sure there are some who would say that Catholics aren’t Christians. I can’t deny that. They just aren’t making the argument from a theologically structured or informed way. They are judging Catholicism based on individual Catholics. (as you’re judging Evangelicalism on individual Evangelicals)

    Mormonism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Evangelicalism are all systems of thoughts whose tenets can be known and evaluated. An Evangelical might say “Catholics don’t believe in salvation by grace” but I can show you Catholic teaching that says otherwise, despite what any Catholic in the pew might say.

    If people want to say that “saved” = Christian, that is fine. But if they think they can categorically write off all Catholics, then they’ll be wiping out most if not all Evangelicals as well. They’ll be down to the people in their own bible study and even there they won’t be sure.

    I would still call them “brother” but I would disagree with them on this. That sort of definition makes the word “christian” almost impossible to use until the sheep are actually separated from the goats.

  63. OK, but Kullervo stated that more often than not, Catholicism would also be excluded. I guess you disagree with Kullervo’s major point on the EV side of the question:

    “Mormons (and other exclusive denominations like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and, more often than not, the Roman Catholic Church) do not fit into this category because their understanding about the nature of Jesus Christ and the means of salvation are radically different: just the claim that it can only be found in fullness in one organization is enough to completely disqualify Mormonism.

    So, Tim, how do YOU define a Christian?

  64. Moreover,

    “…their primary way of thinking about themselves religiously is as a Christian. Again, to a conservative Protestant, specific denomination does not matter. What matters is whether you are a Christian. This means a Protestant is free to move between denominations as much as he wants without worrying about it, as long as the denominations are teaching Christianity. Not Christianity in the sense of “a religion about Jesus,” but in the theologically significant sense of “the way to Jesus.” Mormons may talk about and believe important things about Jesus, enough for sociologists and librarians to categorize them as Christians, but what they teach and believe about Jesus is significantly different enough to make it a different religion than the one that conservative Protestants are practicing. I know of no Mormon that would dispute this. What the Mormon thus fails to understand is that the conservative Protestant calls his religion “Christianity.”

    So when the Evangelical meets a Mormon who claims that Mormonism is Christian, the Evangelical hears the Mormon claiming that they have the same religion.”

    Substitute Catholic for Mormon and you’ve excluded Catholics. Catholics and EV’s do not have the same religion last I checked.

  65. I do not think that Catholicism is a fundamentally different religion on core doctrines than what I believe. We’re different in many significant ways, but on the fundamentals we agree.

  66. I could be wrong, but the Catholic church recognizes my baptism. I’m pretty sure that the Catholic church isn’t that exclusive. At one time, yes; now, no.

  67. Tim, as I recall, when the current Pope was selected, he reiterated the position that the Catholic Church is the only true church, and many Catholics were upset about it because over the years they felt they had built better relations with other faiths and that the renewed emphasis would harm that “progress.” (Many were also hoping for a more liberal pope who would lighten up on issues such as birth control, etc. Instead they got a very conservative Pope.)

  68. Tim,

    Since posting my earlier comments I re-read your “Mormonism isn’t Christian” post.

    I would agree that Catholics worship Jesus as God.

    What is your basis for stating that Mormonism teaches us to worship the Father as God but not Jesus, i.e. what specific scripture or prophetic statement leads you to that conclusion?

  69. Tim said:

    An Evangelical might say “Catholics don’t believe in salvation by grace” but I can show you Catholic teaching that says otherwise, despite what any Catholic in the pew might say.

    Ditto for Mormonism, by the way.

    BJM said:

    Sigh. What a fun discussion I’ve missed out on.

    Great post, Kullervo. I’m sorry I don’t have the time to add more than that right now, but I liked it.

    Ditto on all counts. I’ll be glad to be back online on a regular basis soon.

    I pretty much agree with Kullervo’s analysis; the question itself doesn’t mean the same thing to different people, so discussing it can become quite fruitless. (The same goes for talk about who all worships the “same” Jesus or who all has the “same” religion.)

    I think a better way of framing the key question is this: “Does the LDS church teach a saving faith?”

    We will still disagree on the answer, but I think discussion of that question does a much better job of getting those who answer it the ability to focus on what the key issues and assumptions are.

  70. I second Eric’s suggestion that phrasing the discussion as a “saving faith” is much more fruitful.

  71. I think a better way of framing the key question is this: “Does the LDS church teach a saving faith?”

    We will still disagree on the answer, but I think discussion of that question does a much better job of getting those who answer it the ability to focus on what the key issues and assumptions are.

    Agreed, wholeheartedly.

  72. Kullervo makes an interesting observation in the OP that has a touch of irony to it. First, to restate:

    For LDS, “Jesus” is most broadly defined as “the man who lived ~2000 yrs ago, taught the Sermon on the Mount, and was crucified”; i.e., Mormons define via history.

    For EVs, “Jesus” is most broadly defined as “the incarnate second person of the eternal Triune God”; i.e., EVs define via theology.

    What I found ironic is this: Tim (the mouthpiece of all Evangelism) frequently insists that faith must be based on the historical fact of Jesus, whereas we Mormons insist that faith be based on spiritual experiences, and thus our position is in a sense theological.

    What a fun mess.

  73. Tim: something I’m not quite sure I’m understanding about your position: is it that Mormons are out because we insist that our church is the only way (i.e., Jesus alone is not enough), or is it because of what we teach about the nature/essence of Jesus that we are not Christian?

    I had always understood you to believe the later, but some of your comments here made me think you mean the former.

  74. Great point Brian,

    I wonder if we could say that to Evangelicals (perhaps just me) the theology is the most important thing surrounding Jesus and his history justifies his theology.

    To Mormons, history is the most important thing surrounding Jesus and it’s his theology that justifies his history.

    I think this could get teased out to Joseph Smith and Mormonism as well. The narrative of the church and of individual Mormons is so important. Everyone (converts excluded) always starts off their Mormon testimonies with how far back their genealogy goes, etc. But when challenged with the “flicks of history” the default and justification for believing the history is back to how great the theology is and what it has done for the individual.

    For Evangelicals it’s about theological orthodoxy rather than the narrative. So when the theology is questioned for one reason or another, the default and justification goes back to the historical quality of the Bible and the development of the more complicated theological prepositions.

  75. Does the LDS church teach a saving faith?

    Truly well done Eric. So when the question “are Mormons Christian?” is raised we should all redirect the discussion to “does the LDS church teach a saving faith?”

    This will get us all talking about the same thing. This may in fact be the most fruitful thing to come from this blog.

  76. Tim,
    I disagree that Mormons always point back how far their geneaologies persist in the church. Out of the hundreds of Mormons I’ve ever met, I’ve never an active Mormon talk in their testimony about how important their long geneaology is. Just about every ex-Mo/turned anti-Mo I know includes it, as if that somehow lends them credibility.

    It’s just dumb logic. Maybe I’ll do a post on it, and when you hear a Mormon say it, you can refer them to it. Deal?

  77. Tim 9:01 pm: I can probably only agree with your first (grin) and second paragraphs. My disagreement starts here:

    To Mormons, history is the most important thing surrounding Jesus and it’s his theology that justifies his history.

    The problem is that I was making a point about how “Jesus” is defined in the broadest sense by different groups; you took that dichotomy and applied it to belief systems. It doesn’t work like that.

    The generalization you made also doesn’t hold up:

    Everyone (converts excluded) always starts off their Mormon testimonies with how far back their genealogy goes, etc.

    It’s rare, in my experience, for anyone to mention his genealogy as part of his testimony. Yes, it’s occasionally done, but probably just as often as a preface to expressing some doubt or difficulty: “My family on both sides has been LDS since the 1830s, but I’ve always had a hard time believing _________.” I can’t think of a time when I’ve heard someone cite his genealogy in the sense you suggest.

    There is something, however, that can be salvaged from what you said:

    when challenged with the “flicks of history” the default and justification for believing the history is back to how great the theology is and what it has done for the individual.

    I think this is true, but as I’ve stated above I don’t think that this behavior is really in contrast to the other “testimonial behaviors” of Mormons. But yes, I do think that most Mormons, myself included, draw upon the value of the restored gospel to themselves personally as their primary motivator and basis for their faith. “What’s that you say? Joseph was a heavy drinker, bad investor, and sucked at Xbox? Doesn’t change the fact that following his teachings brings me closer to God.”

    Lastly, I’m not sure I understand what you mean with your very last paragraph (“For Evangelicals it’s about….”).

  78. I disagree that Mormons always point back how far their geneaologies persist in the church.

    Of course you disagree! You disagree with practically everything I say.

    Just to clarify, it doesn’t matter if Mormons talk about their genealogies or not. It was just an example of how Mormons are tied to a narrative. I’m sure you’re right that Mormons don’t say this kind of thing during Fast & Testimony meeting, I was reflecting on my discussions where Mormons are trying to convert me.

  79. okay, re read the paragraph and take out the entire line about genealogies. I’ll retract it if it’s getting in the way of my point.

    I think this could get teased out to Joseph Smith and Mormonism as well. The narrative of the church and of individual Mormons is so important. But when challenged with the “flicks of history” the default and justification for believing the history is back to how great the theology is and what it has done for the individual.

  80. …meaning, I hear Evs tied to a narrative all the time. Isn’t it commonplace for Evs to share their “witness” as a narrative of how they came to Jesus? (In fact, this is more strictly a “testimony” than what Mormons typically share.)

  81. I’ll wait a minute to respond since I think we’re posting at the same time here. But I will say this: I’m ignoring all previous genealogy comments from here on out, so don’t worry about explaining that.

  82. true, but then again you’re not tied to your denomination at all. You’re free (within your theology) to switch denominations as much as you like. Mormons aren’t, but not because we’re tied to the LDS narrative. Rather, we’re tied to that narrative because we are tied to our denomination.

    As long as you agree with what I just said then I’m anxious to get back to trying to understand an earlier point you were tying to make. (And if you disagree then I worry that we’re just not communicating well with each other….)

  83. I was trying to show how Evangelicals and Mormons prioritize and use theology and history/narrative differently. There is something there but as the thought occurred to me I recognized that it was difficult to express concisely.

    My freedom to leave a denomination for another ties right into what I was saying about Evangelicals not being obligated to narrative the way Mormons are.

    It’s going to take too much thought and effort to explain these ideas well at this point, so I give up for now. If some one else wants to take a shot at it, feel free.

  84. Tim ~ I’m thinking one way to answer this question from an Evangelical perspective is to say “Mormons don’t offer a valid baptism, they have no priesthood authority and we should not take communion with them.”

    Such an intriguing suggestion, Tim. I may have to try it some time. I’ve repeatedly tried to stress to my LDS friends that it means very little to me that they affirm my Christianity while denying my baptism into Christ, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, etc. Perhaps an answer like this would put things into perspective for them.

  85. Tim,
    I’m not merely a disagreeable person. I just don’t always write when I agree, and only if I feel I have something useful to add. Often, things I find useful turn out to be disagreements here, but I’m not just disagreeing in order to disagree.

  86. Tim: I’ll try because I really am interested.

    Jack: “I’ve repeatedly tried to stress to my LDS friends that it means very little to me that they affirm my Christianity while denying my baptism into Christ, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, etc. Perhaps an answer like this would put things into perspective for them.”

    That is a useful point to stress to Mormons. A similarly useful way to capture the Mormon frustration is to suppose that Mormons denied that you even accepted the Bible at all? Even when you pull it out of your bag and say, “Look, I have a Bible right here!” and we just respond “Nope, that’s not a Bible. I don’t see it.” That’s the frustration Mormons feel when Evangelicals deny our Christianity.

    (On a side note, you indicate that Mormons are willing to “affirm your Christianity”; what are you willing to affirm about Mormons? I think that’d be an interesting topic.)

    Of course, this all comes back to how we define terms. If I accept your “Christianity,” you know (now) that I’m not accepting your “Christianity the way you define it.” Nope, I certainly reject that type of “Christianity.”

    (note: quotes were used above not to belittle—the usual role of scare quotes—but to stress that “Christianity” is a term.)

    btw, I’m not sure what effect Tim’s answer (“Mormons don’t offer a valid baptism, etc.”) would have on Mormons. We pretty much assume that’s what you think anyway, so you’d just be reiterating our assumption. In fact, Mormons are more likely to be surprised that you accept each other’s baptisms than that you reject LDS baptism.

  87. Tim,

    I want to tell you this is one of the best blog posts you have written, if not “the” best. You have summed it up well. Very well.
    I can add nothing but an “Amen” to your remarks left here.

    Kind regards,
    Gloria

  88. Ok, I stand to be corrected… kulvero, I believe this blog post is from your original post and not tim’s? In any case, it was excellent!!!!

  89. Brian ~ Okay, I have teh Intarweb now (but still no phone). So I’m halfway there.

    I have little doubt that Mormons run into frustrations when dialoguing with evangelicals, and the perception that Mormons don’t read the Bible is one of them. I’ve had two people make negative cracks about Mormons in my past few days at TEDS, and one of them was a guy who basically said if Mormons would read the Bible they’d leave their church. This is a widespread misconception and it’s something that evangelicals need to address. (FWIW, most of the evangelicals I’ve talked to have been very open to all my soapboxing on reforming our approach to Mormonism.)

    As to what I’m willing to affirm about Mormons, that is an interesting topic. I realize most evangelicals would deny that Mormons have valid baptism, communion, priesthood, baptism of the Spirit and are even saved, but the funny thing about evangelical theology is that there’s no requirement that we deny those things. The only Protestant church I know of which has a specific policy requiring Mormons to be re-baptized is the PCUSA. We all know I’m a bit of a liberal on this subject, but it is conceivable to me that there are Mormons out there who have all of those things.

    It’s always been an odd situation to me: that Mormons are willing to affirm evangelicals as Christians, but they’re absolutely required to deny their baptisms, communions, gift of the Holy Spirit, etc. Evangelicals generally deny the Christianity of Mormons, but technically there’s no requirement that they deny the baptism etc. of believing Mormons. Strange world we live in, eh?

  90. For consistency’s sake, and to make the world a little less strange. I am going to lobby that Mormons also deny that Evangelicals are Christian. Repent children of hell!!!!

  91. Yo YD, yoos jast woont take houz tem KJ scholurs red ther bibel.

    Can I start blogging like this? It would surely be a good coverup for all my literary errancy.

  92. To correct my previous ignorance, and to affirm Tim’s correct understanding, the Catholic Church does recognize protestant and orthodox baptism when you convert to Catholicism, but just recently officially stated that they will re-baptize Mormon converts.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/24/us/vatican-decides-to-rebaptize-mormons-who-are-converting.html

    You learn something new everyday.

    Of course, now I am going to lobby to exclude Catholicism from Christianity. I am painting the picket signs today.

  93. Yes, both the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches do require re-baptism of ex-Mormon converts. I didn’t mention them myself because I was discussing the evangelical position on Mormonism.

    I was aware of the ELCA’s position, but recommending re-baptism is a bit different from requiring it. If Mormons only recommended the re-baptism of Protestant converts, it’d be a very different ballgame.

    Most Protestant churches don’t have policies on the re-baptism of Mormon converts. I don’t think it’s usually an issue because typically Mormon converts want to be re-baptized.

  94. BJM,

    Understanding the Lutheran and Reformed doctrines of baptism, especial as they developed against the ana-baptists, that the ELCA even allows, much less recommends baptism for ex-Mormons is a big deal. As I understand it the PCUSA GAPJC ruling concerning baptism for ex-Mormons directly addresses the theology against re-baptism. I do not know if this is still the case in the PCUSA but in the PCA a Teaching Elder can be defrocked for deliberately conducting a re-baptism.

    I do not know enough about Baptist rules in this area but it seems odd to me that a denomination that rejects all padeobaptisms would accept Mormon baptisms. I have visited Baptist Churches where my wife could not take communion because she was baptized as an infant, but I don’t know if this is a position of a local congregation or of the entire denomination.

  95. BTW and the FWIW, PCA, ELCA, NAPARC, LCMS, PCUSA, and GAPJS should accept LDS ASAP, IMHO, before I put them all on my picket list.

  96. Jack: “Okay, I have teh Intarweb now (but still no phone). So I’m halfway there.” Phone? Who needs a phone? That’s only good for talking to real people.

    I think the key point to the frustration both sides feel is that the other side sounds totally obtuse. Because of the way you define “Christian,” it’s ridiculous in your ears for a Mormon to affirm your “Chrisitianity” but deny your baptism. I trust, however, that it makes sense when you use their definition.

    The same goes for me: My point in bringing up the “you don’t read the Bible” wasn’t to talk about that particular accusation (which is asinine, but wasn’t my point). Rather, I was trying to illustrate how idiotic it sounds to a Mormon when they’re accused of not being Christian. “Uh, hey ding-bat: read the sign. It says, ‘Jesus Christ’ right there—or do we have to make the letters even bigger?” Obviously this is because we’re filtering the accusation through our definition of “Christian.” Now that I know what you (and other EVs) mean by “Christian,” your accusation makes perfect sense—and instead of rejecting the accusation as baseless, I can respond to (and reject) your definition of “Christian.”

    “It’s always been an odd situation to me: that Mormons are willing to affirm evangelicals as Christians, but they’re absolutely required to deny their baptisms, communions, gift of the Holy Spirit, etc.” Does it make sense now, given the Mormon definition of “Christian”? And for the record, I don’t think Mormons would deny your gifts of the Spirit. At least, I certainly wouldn’t.

    But anyway, you got the “what do you affirm about Mormons?” question wrong. The correct answer is: Mormons and Evangelicals both believe in Polygamous Jesus.

  97. From a Catholic perspective.
    All those who are baptized into the Father Son & Holy Spirit, who are indwelt with the Holy Spirit, and who believe in the fundementals of the Faith are members of His Body and are (in some cases imperfectly) members of the One True Church which is found most perfectly in all of the several dozen Catholic Churches (the Roman Catholic Church is just one of the various Catholic Churches) under the authority of the Patriarch of Rome.

    So all born-again Evangelicals are Christians.
    They are actually (In a limited sense) Catholic Christians, members of The One Church.
    The One Church is led by and has Rome as its center, but The Church is not limited to Rome. We are all brothers.

    It is even possible that some individual Mormons, by the grace of God, are Christians. Perhaps not.

    If, however all Mormons are Christians because they follow Jesus, are all Muslims similarly Christian? What about New Agers who think of Jesus as an exalted teacher like the Budhah? Are they Christians?
    The term must have some definition.

    The Mormon Church is NOT a Christian church.

    The Catholic Church recognizes the baptism of all Christian groups (not Mormoms nor JWs) and will allow some of the sacrements to them upon certain occassions.

    Rest assured, in Heaven there will be one truth not many.
    We Christians wil sing the same song together around the throne. But Jesus, and the true Jesus not some counterfeit, is the only way to Heaven. We need to love Mormons enough to show them our Lord in his truth.

    In His Mercy,

    CatholicConvertPhoenix

  98. Dear Brian,

    You are a Mormon.

    I do not say that you do not seek to follow Christ in the way you believe he would have you live. It is not meant as an insult.

    If a Muslim who tries to follow the teachings of “Prophet Jesus” is he also a Christian?

    What if you asked me what I was and I said I was a “latter day saint”?
    I do live in this later day (as opposed to earlier days) and scripture refers to all believers as saints. But I am NOT a Latter Day Saint. that term refers to you. For me to claim it would be silly.
    I could also claim to be a Muslim for I too seek to submit to the God of Abraham and find peace in this submission.

    Christians believe there only exists one transcendant God. Mormons teach there exist many contingent gods.
    That is the biggest difference.

    Frankly Islam is far closer to Christianity in its theology that the LDS faith.

    I am willing to accept that God, in his mercy, may consider many Mormons as His based upon their faith.

    To consider the LDS faith a Christian faith is to stretch the term to where it means whatever you want it to mean.

    Let’s be honest. If the LDS faith is Christian then Christianity is a subjective idea that I follow Christ-whatever that means to me.

    So, are you a Christian? Only God can answer that for sure but I would encourage you make your calling sure by reading the Fathers of The Church and see if their teaching comports with your beliefs. These men were baptised by the Apostles. They were certainly not Mormons.

    Is the LDS faith Christian? By no means.

    it is a subtle distiction.

    As your missionaries urge me to leave my (to them) false faith and embrace the restored gospel let me urge you to leave error and enter into the fullness and freedom of the gospel that Jesus gave us. The gates of Hell have not prevailed against His Bride The Church.

    Please pray for me and be assured I will pray for you.

  99. Tim: nonsense. I want to know what term Mormons-Are-Not-Christians-ers use to refer to Mormons. And I’m sorry, CatholicConvert Phoenix, “Mormon” is not an answer.

  100. If you’re going to press for it, I think Mormon is a really good answer. Latter-Day Saint works as well. Both have definitions attached to them that describe your religious beliefs and neither puts me in the position as judge of your eternal fate the way a number of alternative would (heretic, blasphemer, cultist, etc.).

    Tell me why I shouldn’t call you a Mormon?

    If I thought what the majority of Christians believe is apostate and abominable I’d most likely embrace being called an Evangelical rather than a Christian. Both “Mormon” and “Evangelical” have a common understanding attached to them that tells people that Jesus is part of the religious mix.

    In some parts of the world Evangelicals don’t use the word Christian to describe themselves.

  101. Tim, I think was being unclear with my question. Sorry about that—a bit exhausted after 4 1/2 hours in the mouse room.

    If you, a Mormons-Are-Not-Christians-er, were to draw Venn diagrams for different groups, you would place several different denominations under the “Christian” label. “Mormon” doesn’t work as THE label for Mormons because it ignores any commonalities between Mormons and, for example, Evangelicals.

    Or, if you prefer, use a taxonomic system (i.e., kingdom, phylum, etc.). What term(s) do you assign to Mormons? I’d say use “Judeo-Christian,” but of course that’s out. I even doubt whether you would assign us to the “Abrahamic” superfamily. We know what you think we aren’t; what are we?

  102. I don’t think Vern diagrams may be the best way to categorize theology for a number of different reasons. Where are you going to stick Ba’hai or Universalist? We’re going to start seeing all kinds of “mash-ups”. Where will they belong? If you stick Abrahamic faiths under Monotheism would Mormonism fit under Monotheism? Should/Could Mormonism show the commonalities it has with other polytheistic/henotheistic/tritheistic faiths and Christianity with Vern diagrams?

    Mormon origins clearly belong to Christianity. That’s natural and obvious. I can’t and wouldn’t deny that. But Mormonism is something different than (apostate) Christianity. If the LDS church grows at the rate it says it will, it will become a world religion, just as Islam had Christian origins and became a world religion.

  103. Christianity is not monotheistic according to Muslims. . . it has its origins in monotheism, but it clearly does not believe in ONE God that is all powerful.

  104. Well, we know that traditional Christianity gets around that by making the three into One.

    I just wish they’d acknowledge that the same theological wizardry that makes three beings into one God can also make MORE beings into one God.

    Release the hounds!

  105. Blake Ostler is on a mission to rescue the revelations of the God of Abraham from the Jewish/Christian/Islamic tradition corrupted by Greek philosophy.

    How many LDS friends want to consider Mormonism flowing within the river of “the tradition”?

  106. Tim, If I may, according to LDS beliefs about everyone else, Before there was apostate Christianity, there was true Christianity. A religion that is saved through the merits of Jesus as Savior cannot be placed on par with Muslims who instead view Jesus only as a prophet. Such obfuscations do nothing but provide self-serving definitions.

    Under the apocalyptic version of religions that trust in Christ as Savior, LDS have a firm place setting, as even the Catholics recently recognized. Say we’re wrong about what we believe, but stop trying to confuse people by saying we view Jesus as unimportant as the Muslims do. K?

  107. My point is, that you can have different definitions of Monotheism as well as Christianity,

    It seems silly to insist on a narrow definition of the word when you are speaking publicly (except for your own political purposes) which is what Evangelicals generally try to do.

    For a Muslim, Christianity is not monotheistic, because his religion is, but it would be silly of him to insist that everyone adopt his definition of monotheism since by most reasonable standards Christianity does seem to be a lot more monotheistic than polytheistic.

    Its the exact same thing with the “christian” moniker. Its about politics not theology.

  108. Excellent post and comments.

    Thanks Kullervo… quite good summary and the statements do indeed correlate to a lot of my experiences… we’re usually talking next to each other instead of to each other

    In Him
    Mick

  109. Pingback: Taking control of the Mormon conversation — Another look at Ballard | Wheat and Tares

  110. Pingback: Mormons: Cultists or Christians | Exemplo

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