I was recently asked by a Mormon: “How much false doctrine can one believe and still be ‘saved’?”
The question was asked in the context of whether or not Jesus will have a literal 1,000 year reign on Earth after his Second Coming and if anyone who disagrees with me is going to Hell for believing false doctrine.
I think it’s a troubling question for many reasons but I understand why a Mormon would be asking an Evangelical about the implications of heresy. Evangelicals for the most part reject Mormonism as a form of Christianity largely because the nature of God described in Mormonism is so radically different than the one defined in classic Christianity. (Specifically if there is more than one god, if Heavenly Father was once a man, if men can become gods and how the three figures of the godhead coexist as “one”). If Mormons are determined to be outside the fold then why not someone with a different view of the end times or eternal security?
Since the question was originally asked about the salvation of an individual, I will answer concerning individuals but I think it’s also important to discuss the theology of Mormonism as a separate issue.
For The Individual
I think the question of how much false doctrine one can believe without affecting salvation is a bit like asking “how much adultery can a man commit and remain married?” It’s a terrible way to approach salvation and sanctification. I think believing false doctrines are caused by ignorance or sin. Where they are caused by ignorance they should be illuminated and corrected. When they are caused by sin they should be rebuked.
First off, salvation is not based on the works or lack of sin of an individual. It is the free gift of Christ offered BECAUSE we are sinful and hold false beliefs about God. Our inability to live righteously on our own is the very reason Jesus offers us salvation. After salvation is received I think we can expect someone to become a disciple of Jesus and seek to conform their beliefs and actions to those of Jesus. Leaving behind a life of sin and a pattern of false beliefs is a process that we pursue throughout our lives. Asking “how many false things can I believe?” is just as fallacious as asking “when have I learned all true things?” We are always on a journey of learning and living out more truth.
Everyone should seek to cast off every false belief because where truth is, God is known better. Someone who wants to hold on to false beliefs must be asked “why do you want to maintain a false belief?” For most I’m sure the answer will be “because I believe it to be a true belief.” In such cases education and exhortation are required.
If someone says they have accepted the gift of salvation of Jesus but continue to sin and rebel against God we would probably assume that their conversion was not authentic. Who does and does not have an authentic conversion is something no man truly has the power to determine. That is for God to decide.
For A System of Belief
There is no question that there is a great deal of diversity in Christianity about a great many doctrinal beliefs. The reason denominations exist is because groups value and emphasize different aspects of scripture over others. So why do Christians accept some Christian in the community of Christ but reject others (such as LDS and Jehovah’s Witness)?
If I entered an average Elder’s Quorum meeting at an LDS ward house and asked “Is there an eternal progression between the kingdoms in the after life?” or “What sort of creative powers belong to Heavenly Mother?” I would likely get a great many different opinions on the matter with a varying degree of passion and fervency to the answers. Yet no one would question if any of the men in the room were true members of the LDS church.
BUT, if a woman entered the meeting and announced that she was the new prophet of this dispensation and that polyandry must be immediately be reinstated; I’m certain that almost everyone in the room would declare her to be an outsider. The LDS church would go as far as to say that she was a not a “Mormon.” So why is it the LDS church wants to declare who is or is not a “Mormon?” I don’t think it’s just a power play on the Church’s part. They mostly want to avoid confusion.
A certain amount of diversity of opinion can be tolerated but if the lines are too broadly drawn there is confusion. The terms “Christian” or “Mormon” begin to lose their meaning. The LDS church wants a loose definition of the term “Christian” for the same reason it wants a strict definition of the term “Mormon”; in order for the terms to serve its own purposes.
When any religion is defined the first and most central question is “how does it define God?” There are a great many parallels between Mormonism and Christianity. In some respects they are indecipherable. The overlaps are obvious. But when it gets to the core description of the nature of God, they are incredibly different. Christianity says that there is only ONE god, Mormonism says there is a multiplicity of gods. That contradiction causes too much confusion. This issue was not defined by Christians in the 19th Century in order to keep Mormons out of the club. It was firmly set in place over 1600 years ago.
If Mormons wish to reject monotheism, they are free to do so. If they wish to say that the LDS church is the only true Christian church and that only Mormons are Christians, they are also free to do so. Regardless of who is in charge of defining the word “Christian”; Mormons and Christians agree that we believe radically different things about a core doctrine. Over this, there should be no confusion.
Does this mean that Mormons lack salvation? That is a question for the individual and ultimately for God to answer. I encourage all individuals to cast off false prophets and hold tight to true prophets in their pursuit of God.