I am always harping about how Mormons are allowed to believe a lot more things than traditional Christians and still be Mormons. I don’t think the Mormons that run the Church care about truth per se, but its usefulness in the cause, and it is eminently useful not to engage in debates about what you have to believe to be LDS. I think most sane people believe this— it is generally not wise to declare how stupid you think others are within their earshot, and most people are apt to say stupid things when they are cutting down another cause.
From my point of view, this reality presents those who make massive truth claims, such as Evangelical Protestants, an interesting test: Here is a group of people who ostensibly believe a lot of the same things you Evangelicals believe; they are going to hell, forever, because of their confusion; it seems that the power of your message should be able to convert these people. For me, it’s as if the Mormons are laying ready on Mount Carmel and Evangelicals can’t make so much as a spark to ignite what is dry kindling. I thought a good place to put my pet theory to the test is to determine whether a Mormon can fully believe the Protestant view of Salvation and remain LDS. Is there some logical necessity of rejecting the message of the Restoration? If they are not now, Mormons even become saved Christians and remain in the Church?
The question seems important. If the answer is “no,” Protestants should joyfully want Mormons to believe in their view of the Gospel whether or not the Mormons remain faithful to their LDS covenants or attend LDS church or believe the Book of Mormon is the word of God, or even continue to gather converts. The entire approach to LDS missionary work would not be to show them where they are wrong theologically (which is extremely boring), but to teach them the truth in spirit and in power like Paul advocated (manifestly less boring). I recognize that many Mormons do not, and never will, understand or believe the theology behind the Evangelical view of salvation from original sin. But most Mormons are new Mormons without set theologies, and LDS Missionary efforts require a wide tolerance for strange beliefs. (I learned this acutely while eating dinner with a Jet Propulsion Laboratory physicist and my missionary companion, who was convinced that the earth was hollow.)
And if they can get away with believing the strange things that they do, and remain in full fellowship, what’s to keep them from truly believing the strange Protestant confession of fantastic redemption from original sin. Nothing, right? After studying the matter out for quite some time, I don’t think there is anything essentially offensive to a Mormon’s covenants to believe nearly the same theology as a Protestant—even if he would find himself in contradiction if he actually thought his belief systems through. (Since when was holding contradictory beliefs not ubiquitous?) Mormons may be a silly church compared to say, [reminder before posting: research name of church without silliness], but at least they would be safe in love and grace of Christ in spite of silliness.
I am willing to accept that I may be wrong on this point. There may be something about grace that you won’t get if you wear a CTR ring (or have learned the song), and the Mormon believer must actually renounce all of it to be saved. There may also be some scriptural clause that prevents reconciliation of strong group loyalty with traditional Christian belief in salvation. Something like that could apply to a believing Mormon. But I think it would be hard show who God singles out Mormon covenantal devotion to the Church without forcing a patriotic American, Russian, or Japanese, to renounce their national fielty for grace to hold them. (Maybe those that believe this sort of view are correct.) But if I am correct, and a believing Mormon can believe in Jesus in an Evangelical way, it seems that Evangelicals continue to fail the test I posit. Undoubtedly Protestants believe Mormons might need the pill of understanding how much grace Jesus offers to heal their illness, Evangelicals often share their religion as a theological suppository.
Tolstoy’s reaction to this sort of approach:
“Never shall I forge the painful feeling I experienced the day I received the Eucharist for the first time after many years. The service, confession, and prayers were quite intelligible and produced in me a glad consciousness that the meaning of life was being revealed to me. The Communion itself I explained as an act performed in remembrance of Christ, and indicating a purification from sin and the full acceptance of Christ’s teaching. If that explanation was artificial I did not notice its artificiality: so happy was I at humbling and abasing myself before the priest — a simple, timid country clergyman — turning all the dirt out of my soul and confessing my vices, so glad was I to merge in thought with the humility of the fathers who wrote the prayers of the office, so glad was I of union with all who have believed and now believe, that I did not notice the artificiality of my explanation. But when I approached the altar gates, and the priest made me say that I believed that what I was about to swallow was truly flesh and blood, I felt a pain in my heart: it was not merely a false note, it was a cruel demand made by someone or other who evidently had never known what faith is.
I now permit myself to say that it was a cruel demand, but I did not then think so: only it was indescribably painful to me. I was no longer in the position in which I had been in youth when I thought all in life was clear; I had indeed come to faith because, apart from faith, I had found nothing, certainly nothing, except destruction; therefore to throw away that faith was impossible and I submitted. And I found in my soul a feeling which helped me to endure it. This was the feeling of self-abasement and humility. I humbled myself, swallowed that flesh and blood without any blasphemous feelings and with a wish to believe. But the blow had been struck and, knowing what awaited me, I could not go a second time.”
Is it possible to offer the Eucharist to Mormons without posing such questions?