Three Stages in the Decline of a Religion

I was listening to a sermon by Ravi Zacharias in which he credited the poet Lord Byron with the following.

Three Stages in the Decline of a Religion:

1) Heresy – when true God is worshiped with false worship
2) Idolatry – false gods worshiped while we suppose them for true God
3) Witchcraft – adoration for false gods knowing them to be wicked

My friend who directed me to the sermon pointed out that this seems to loosely follow the pattern Paul lays out in Romans 1. I briefly looked but could not find any other reference to Lord Byron. [it actually comes from The Advancement of Learning by Francis Bacon]

Over a year ago I wrote about my begrudging acceptance of a sect of Christianity which I find disgusting but still within the camp of Christian orthodoxy. What I like about Byron’s Bacon’s three stages is that it defines such believers as heretics but still worshipers of a true God.

I would place Mormonism in the classification of “idolatry” because its description of God is so wildly different than that of orthodox Christianity. In turn I think the classic Christian understanding of God is idolatrous if Mormon theology were to be the standard (and appropriately deemed “apostate” – outside the faith).

The place I probably struggle the most in Byron’s Bacon’s paradigm is the description of “knowing the false gods to be false.” I think this might better describe an individual’s posture of religion than a religion itself. I think there are individuals who know their gods are false, but worship them anyways. But I think each religion is at least attempting to direct people toward worship of a true god.

Skittles In Remembrance

Today a friend from college posted the following on Facebook:

We just took Skittles and iced tea as communion elements at my church in honor of the situation with Trayvon Martin–because being a Christian is an active, wrong-righting, radical-loving, justice-seeking way of life…

I knew immediately that there were a great many things to unpack in this posting.  At the very least I knew her congregation had inspired a conversation about Jesus and injustice and for that I applaud them.  But there seemed to be something else nestled into this radical statement that didn’t sit well with me.

254069-skittlesFor those unaware of the reference, Trayvon Martin was a black, 17-year-old who was killed (some say murdered) in an altercation with a neighborhood watchman named George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was recently acquitted of murdering Martin and the case brought up many controversial conversations about race, self-defense, and injustice. Martin had decided to go out to the store that evening to get Skittles and Iced Tea.

It is clear to me that Trayvon Martin did not deserve to die that night.  His death is a tragedy. It simply should not have happened.  I do not wish to jump into the cultural, political or legal controversies surrounding his death in this space, but I acknowledge the deep feelings of injustice that are conjured in the hearts of many Americans by his death. Trayvon Martin should not be dead because he wanted some Skittles and Iced Tea.

In many ways I understand what my friend’s church was doing by serving Skittles and Iced Tea in communion.  The bread and the wine are two of the most powerful symbols in Christianity.  Skittles and Iced Tea have become powerful symbols of racial injustice in America.  From an artistic perspective it makes a lot of sense to put these symbols in proximity to one another.  The moral complexity caused by creating a relationship between these symbols is explosive.  I believe this symbol clashing expression of a Christian sacrament is powerful, but I also must ask “is it good?”

From a purely pragmatic perspective I believe that Skittles and Iced Tea can be used as a substitute for bread and wine in Communion.  On a deserted island with nothing else on hand, I think God would find them an honorable means of worship.  If I had to guess, I’d say 99% of my worship experiences have been in churches that chooses to use grape juice instead of wine.  The LDS church uses water.  Most churches serve some variety of crackers, wafers or even bread with yeast.  My own church has recently begun to set out gluten-free crackers for those with gluten allergies. I say all of this to acknowledge that many churches use some substitute for the wine and the kind of bread Jesus served in the Last Supper.  Not many make the effort to replicate Jewish, First Century wine and Passover bread.

From a symbolic perspective I think the use of Skittles and Iced Tea is wrong.  I whole-heartedly agree that “being a Christian is an active, wrong-righting, radical-loving, justice-seeking way of life… ”  We should, ought and must be fighting against racial barriers and injustice.  Nonetheless I think it was inappropriate to make the Sacrament an opportunity to call Christians to the fight against injustice.

When Jesus broke the bread and served the wine, he said “do this in remembrance of me”.  He did not say “do this in remembrance of Trayvon Martin and the injustice of racial stereotypes”.  I hope and pray that churches every where are preaching relevant, practical and Biblical sermons on breaking the bonds of injustice.  I strongly encourage them to develop programs to help their neighbors overcome those types of struggles.  But Communion is not the place to offer that charge. The Gospel of Jesus is in part about racial and societal reconciliation, but that is not the entire message.

The error in using Skittles and Iced Tea in Communion is that it places the Christian mission against injustice at the center of the worship experience rather than Christ. In many ways this story illuminates the Conservative/Liberal Christian divide for me.  Churches on both sides of the spectrum fall into heresy when they misplace any one aspect of the Christian pursuit of virtue over Jesus himself.  Churches that designate themselves as “open and affirming” seem to easily devolve into nothing more than the message of acceptance.  Jesus and his Gospel are far bigger than that.  Churches that focus on personal piety and moral regulations can devolve into nothing more than the message of righteousness.  Jesus and his Gospel are far bigger than than. Churches that focus on nothing but their liturgy and priesthood can become a place where nothing is more important that the right mode of worship and authority. Jesus and his Gospel are far bigger than that.  Churches that passionately pursue complex theological teaching can become nothing more than their sound doctrines. Jesus and his Gospel are far bigger than that.  Justice, acceptance, righteousness, worship, authority and doctrine are all wonderful things and should be pursued passionately. . . but they aren’t Jesus.  Our Savior calls us to all of them, but they are not saviors.

I imagine the good people at my friend’s church would be appalled if they heard of another church that had replaced the bread and the wine with Budweiser and apple pie.  I hope their outrage would not be because they reject the cultural or political message symbolized by those items, but rather because what those items represent are never meant to displace our call to remember Jesus’ death when we partake of the sacraments.

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.

You are SAVED (from Hell)!! – What Evangelicals have that Mormons don’t: Part II

One thing that strikes me as a key difference in how Mormons and Evangelicals view being “saved” is what they believe they are saved from.  For Mormons, the flip-side of not feeling the joy of being COMPLETELY forgiven like Evangelicals do, is the comfort of never having to worry about hell in the least, for me or anybody else.  I think this difference may shape how Mormons and Evangelicals differ in they way they see God, their purpose in life, and, to some degree, what life is about. I offer my own experience as a way for Evangelicals to gain some insight on how not believing in Hell can shape your thoughts and behavior.

To somebody raised in the LDS church in the late twentieth century, there is no hell.  A fiery place where souls are sent by God to burn forever? As a Mormon growing up, I took that as seriously as the idea that the devil had horns and pitchfork. The only thing close to “hell” that I was taught about was not anywhere God would send me, It was merely the pain and disappointment of not being with our Father again, who wanted us to be there and provided a way for us to do it. I was taught that if we even got a glimpse of the Telestial kingdom, we would want to kill ourselves just to go their.  The absolute worst part if it was that I couldn’t be with my family forever. This sounded crappy enough, so I couldn’t imagine my Father in Heaven, who loved me more than my real parents did, wanted any of us to go through anything worse.

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Be afraid. . . be very afraid.

I saw this video the other day, and I have to say that it struck a deep chord. At first it made me very happy that BYU was finally allow some open social outlet for gay students to socialize.  Then it hit me how big a challenge it will be for Mormons and Evangelicals to deal with the fact of homosexuality.

Listening to these kids stories about how they discovered that they were gay in the context of being active, faithful mormons made me realize, perhaps for the first time, how ridiculously awful it would be to be a 12 year old mormon kid discovering that you were gay.  I remember how religious I was at that age, how devoted, finding out that I was gay would have been the ultimate betrayal and would have ended my spirituality or my connection to the Church.  And the nature of the reaction of my friends and family would be the test of whether Christianity was bunk or not. Perhaps the reason that when I was young, I never saw or heard anything like what I hear in the videos. Because it was not in front of me, it was really easy not to realize the crucible that the believing Mormon gay child is in. If I had, it would have been hard to stay Mormon or Christian at all.

Seeing the kids in the video, still very much engaged in Mormonism on a sincere level, It made my heart hurt. I don’t know really how I would be able to deal with it. My brother, who knew gay friends at BYU, and struggles with depression, told me with all sincerity that he would have certainly killed himself if he was gay. The straight majority in the church simply does not recognize the gravity of the situation.   These kids cannot be both gay and Mormon without seriously twisting something that is part of them.

The fact that homosexuality exists as a natural phenomena among those that are close to God within the faith throws a very powerful curve ball at both Mormons and Evangelicals. Unlike with heterosexuality, which is channeled and controlled, homosexuality must be eliminated, or certain deeply held tenants must be abandoned.

When it comes to Evangelicals or Mormons I don’t know who has the bigger problem. For Mormons, being gay shatters the careful conception of what the pinnacle of life on earth is all about (covenants, eternal marriage, pro-creation). In my experience, People don’t talk about being gay in Mormon Church, it is not accepted, most of what is said about it is by the vocal minority who is firmly anti-gay.    Evangelicals might have an easier time.  I think it may be easier to “sin” and talk about it, and even being an active sexual “sinner” and still feel connected to Evangelicals christianity.  Partly because Mormons may kick you out if you are at all open and unrepentant about it.  However Evangelicals seem to play a lot bigger part in anti-gay activism, because of the sheer size of the group in comparison with Mormonism, and the de-centralized nature, there are a lot more vocal bigots in Evangelicalism.

The problem is that both groups can be deeply un-Christian about how they approach the problem.  The black mark this leaves on Mormonism and Evangelicalism, in the eyes a gay person who embraces their sexuality, or to anybody else who holds their sexuality dear is difficult to overstate.   An institutional stance that is anything short of deeply empathetic and loving makes a church seem like a absurd charade of the love that Jesus spoke of.

The reason why homophobia may be intractable is that Mormons and Evangelicals should be afraid on an institutional level.  The fact of natural homosexuality requires institutional change if either group is to remain followers of Jesus.  It’s hard for me to see how either group provides a satisfying answer to the person who feels God in and through their experiences of sexuality AND openly embraces a “alternative lifestyle”.   Which means, no matter how spiritually compelling either Mormonism or Evangelicalism is, they are going to appear to be very limited or broken for anybody who understands that God wants some people to be gay AND close to Him.   Just as they have to tweak their theology to account for the unfathomable size and complexity of the universe, they are going to have to change in order to get in line with this reality.  Of course this very sort of change may cause foundations to crumble.

I never quite saw this fact before this video. Hearing and seeing the human problem is necessary to make non-gay realize it.  My guess is that more open, honest and loving discussions of homosexuality within Mormonism and Evangelicalism will mean dramatic changes within both, or simply a larger exodus from a faith that has lost touch with the real world.

At this point, if my child was gay, I would actively try to de-convert them from both Evangelicalism and Mormonism because, at least to this child, neither seem to be carrying the torch of Christian love and understanding.

Believers, what can be done?

Maximally Perfect in Every Way

In his book The God Question, JP Moreland sets out to give a basic overview of why someone should consider becoming a Christian and what her life should look like in following Jesus.

In his chapter on Worship he states:

Christian philosophers call God a “Maximally Perfect Being.” This sounds pretty heady, but in reality, it is a crucial concept. To see why, think of people who are phenomenally gifted. Now, these folks deserve respect for their attributes, abilities, or whatever. How much respect? They deserve a degree of respect proportionate to their excellence in their area of giftedness, such as intelligence. But these people do not deserve our complete or full respect. Why? Well, if someone more intelligent came on the scene, the new person would deserve more respect. So even if a more intelligent person is not around, we know such a person undoubtedly exists, so we hold back our respect a bit.

A Maximally Perfect Being is one who could not possibly be surpassed in wisdom, mercy, love, power, and so on. God is not the greatest being who happens to exist. He is the greatest being who could possibly exist. The implication should be clear: God is worthy of our complete, full, deepest, total commitment. Worship is the act of giving admiration, respect, affection, honor, reverence, and adoration to God. And given the nature of God, worship should be unreserved and total.

I think his thoughts give a good overview of why Evangelicals are so scandalized by Mormon teachings on the nature of God. To view God as someone who may have once been a man, might have been a sinner, or even someone who is in the process of progressing robs Him of something integral to His character. To the Evangelical ear, Mormonism states that God is not a Maximally Perfect being.

This is part of the reason Evangelicals often ask Mormons why they don’t seek to worship the god of God. We want to give respect and worship to the one who deserves it most. We are seeking out the greatest possible being. If there is one greater than Heavenly Father we want to offer him our praise.

Kids in church

I’ve done enough guest posts on hard theological subjects. I think I deserve a foray into Mormon Mommy Blog-ism, so here goes.

There’s a lot that I admire about the way LDS sacrament meetings are done in contrast to how evangelical services are usually conducted. I like that members of the ward regularly get the opportunity to address the congregation; in fact, for all my demi-feminist ranting about the LDS gender system, I do find it ironic that, unless yours is the rare evangelical church with a female pastor of some sort on the staff, you’re much more likely to hear a woman address the congregation from the pulpit at an LDS church than an evangelical church. I like that the LDS version of the Lord’s supper is administered weekly, whereas most evangelical congregations do it quarterly or monthly. And on top of that, what could possibly be more awesome than playing Testimony Bingo or Choose the Wife while you’re bored at church?

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Are Evangelicals Really Christians?

Forgive the provocative title.

Reading through the Gospels has put a lot of questions in my mind about what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Jesus is quoted as giving some pretty direct statements regarding who would be his true followers and be part of the kingdom of heaven of which he spoke so often. It appears to me that he defined his disciples by those who choose to follow his highest moral teachings. i.e. the Sermon on the Mount and the “New Commandment” to love others as he had loved his disciples.

After the Sermon on the Mount he is quoted in Matthew 7:

15“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

21Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

24“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

In John, Jesus gives this definition:

34 A new commandment. I give to you,(that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13 34-35 (NIV)

Again in John, Jesus is quoted as saying that the choice to do the will of God was the path to understanding if Jesus was really of God, as opposed to relying on your interpretation of scripture the Pharisees were doing) :

John 7: (NIV)16Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. 17If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 18He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.

From my point of view the title of “Christian” is something that Jesus would not give out to all those who claim that title today, Mormons and Evangelicals included. It seems rather clear from these two accounts, that There has to be a will to follow God, and to put Jesus’ teachings into practice rather than a simple confession of faith. Indeed, according to the Jesus of Matthew, a correct confession of correct faith in accord with the learned seems to be something quite superfluous if you actually choose to do God’s will, i.e. you will know for yourself without scriptural confirmation.

So according to Him, isn’t it a bit presumptuous for us to call ourselves “Christians” without searching our hearts to find out if we really want to put the very difficult teachings of Jesus into practice. He does not say: ” By this shall men know that you are my disciples, if you have the correct creed and teaching about my true substance” or ” By this shall people know that you are my disciples, if you belong to my one and only true church”.

It seems a bit strange that we so readily defend ourselves as “Christians” because we believe that Christ died for our sins, when this theological fact was not at all the focus of what Jesus had to say to those who believed that he was the Messiah. I, for one, would think that He would look more favorably on those who sought to put his words into practice, whether or not they believed He died for their sins, was resurrected, was God, a God, or part of a triune substance that is the Trinity. He does say that these people, apparently regardless of their particular brand of theology, will be on the solid foundation when they stand before Him. I mean, may of the much maligned “hell-bound” secular humanists seem to fair better on this front than those who call “Lord Lord” quite often. It seems that the focus on our own salvation and doing what it takes to “get saved” really misses the point, doesn’t it?

So, does it make sense to call yourself a “Saint” (latter-day or otherwise) or a “Christian” without the will and inclination to put His teachings into practical application?


Others, inside and outside of purported Christianity seem to have previously picked up on this same thought:

As Gandhi observed. “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” discussed here by an Anglican.

An inside LDS Perspective on this Topic from David Haight

and Joseph Smith (verses 34-46)

Another tangent:
Are The Great Commandment and The Great Commission Incompatible?

A new discussion about how Mormons are not christian:

Parchment & Pen

Idol Gives Jesus Back To Us

First off, let me clarify that I really don’t like American Idol and I’m bummed I know as much about it as I do.

This week, American Idol did their annual charity show. They chose to have the group of contestants sing an Evangelical praise song. BUT, they cut the name of Jesus out of it. This immediately caused a fire storm throughout the Christian community. The backlash seemed to have made it to the producer’s ears because the next night they redid the song but put Jesus’ name back into it.

What I thought was interesting was that they had the 3 contestants who were comfortable singing the song to Jesus sing that part of the song. 2 of those 3 contestants were Mormon. I’m sure there was a great deal of rejoicing throughout the land that the song became about Jesus once again. But interesting that if it had not been for those 2 Mormons, Evangelicals may not have heard the song the way they prefer it (the third contestant could have been voted off weeks ago).

(as a further piece of information, at least half of last year’s final 10 contestants were Evangelical Christians. This year their presence is not quite as dominant.)

Why It Matters That Jesus Is “My God”

I’m beginning a new post because the comments in my last post got off on a number of diversions. Among those comments were these:

Jared said:
What does Thomas’ opinion (as reported by John) matter, in the original Greek or otherwise?

Seth said:
. . .But like Jared, I wonder why Thomas’s opinion has much weight for our purposes.

Kullervo also made a number of good points questioning the historicity of John that are important to discuss and I don’t wish to dismiss them. But in the realm of Mormon and Evangelical conversations it’s not an issue. Both Mormons and Evangelicals have come to agree that they are Thomas’ words and that the Gospel of John accurately records them. We also agree that those words are authoritatively canonized and should be viewed as scripture.

So why does it matter that Thomas called Jesus “my God”? (John 20:28) It matters because it tells us, as disciples of Jesus, what kind of view WE should have of Jesus. It gives us an indication of what we should think when we encounter a risen Jesus. Thomas was not chastised by Jesus for declaring him to be his God. Instead Jesus acknowledges his belief and says others will be blessed for having the same belief without the benefit of sight.

Compare this to John falling at the feet of Jesus in Revelation 1 (a correct response) and to John falling at the feet of an angel in Revelation 19 (an incorrect response). Jesus apparently expects his followers to fall at his feet and worship him as their God. It matters because it is what is due to Jesus. Denying God the worship he deserves has consequences.

The Book of Mormon and sermons by Joseph Smith both indicate that this should be our posture to Jesus as well. The “Joseph Smith Translation” doesn’t even scratch this portion of John. If, as a Christian, you don’t think Jesus should be worshiped as your God I’d like to know why and what your opinion is of Thomas and John’s example.

Random thought about this passage

It struck me in church today that in John’s Gospel, the stories after the resurrection seem to be cleaning some loose ends from before the crucifixion. Similar to Jesus asking Peter three times if he loved him I think this story about Thomas has some relevance to a conversation Thomas and Jesus had at the Last Supper.

John 14: 5-7

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

What’s The Big Deal About The Trinity?

I’ve had a couple of comments asking if I think some one is not saved just because they don’t buy into the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s an important distinction between Classical Christianity and Mormonism. So it’s worth talking about it as often as needed.

First off, I’m not the judge and I’m not pretending to be. Second, I do not think personal confusion over the doctrine of the Trinity is going to keep anyone out of heaven. No way. Not in the least. The only thing that has the power to save us is the grace of Christ. Nobody has to pass a theology exam to get in. All they have to do is repent from sin and believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

I’m pretty sure that if I walked into any Evangelical church a large number of people would give a theologically inaccurate description of the Trinity. I would hear everything from modalism to tri-theism. I’m also sure that the more I separated those people by theological education, the better their description would become. And with greater theological training comes greater responsibility to understand and avoid heresy.

Whereas I don’t think confusion or misconception about the Trinity will separate anyone from God. I DO think that an outright rejection of the Trinity is a serious problem. Why? Because we have to repent from our sins. One of our chief sins against God is idolatry. Idolatry does not only involve holding on to false gods, it also is about holding on to false ideas about God. If someone understands the doctrine of the Trinity and understands why Christianity describes God as a Trinity but utterly rejects it, then I have some questions.

Do they reject the Trinity because:
1) they do not believe the Father is God and is worthy of our worship as God?
2) they do not believe Jesus is God and is worthy of our worship as God?
3) they do not believe the Holy Spirit is God and is worthy of our worship as God?
4) they do not believe that only one God can necessarily and logically exist?

A rejection of any of these 4 ideas based on an educated reading of the Old and New Testaments (heck I’ll even throw in the Book of Mormon) I believe will pose a problem for anyone facing Christ on Judgment Day. In some way rejecting each of these ideas is rejecting God. It’s hard for me to reconcile someone rejecting God and receiving a place with him.

My question for Mormons is why do you reject the Trinity? My understanding of Mormon doctrine is that the rejection of the Trinity is founded first and foremost based on the First Vision. Between The Book of Mormon and the First Vision account, which has undergone the most revisions outside of spelling and grammatical changes? Which can be trusted as the most authoritative? Which did Joseph Smith say was the most accurate of any book? Which did you receive a spiritual testimony about?

2 Nephi 31:21

“And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end.

3 Nephi 11:22-27, 36

And again the Lord called others, and said unto them likewise; and he gave unto them power to baptize. And he said unto them: On this wise shall ye baptize; and there shall be no disputations among you. Verily I say unto you, that whoso repenteth of his sins through your words and desireth to be baptized in my name, on this wise shall ye baptize them–Behold, ye shall go down and stand in the water, and in my name shall ye baptize them. And now behold, these are the words which ye shall say, calling them by name, saying: Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. And then shall ye immerse them in the water, and come forth again out of the water. And after this manner shall ye baptize in my name; for behold, verily I say unto you, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one…

And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.

Join the One True Club

In my post questioning if MormonISM is Christian I’ve been accused of being exclusionary for the purpose of leaving Mormons out of the club. I hope to explain why asking the question “Who is Christian?” or “What Churches are Christian?” is important to non-LDS Christians, Protestants in particular.

When I (and other Protestants) ask “is that church Christian?” we are really asking “Can I worship Jesus there?” We want to know if we can take communion and be in communion in that congregation. We want to know if their baptism is valid. We are seeking to understand what the most basic requirements are for Christianity so that we can JOIN together in worship. In answering “can I worship there?” we are including a group that numbers over 1.5 billion people. We are saying that the one true church includes all Protestants, Orthodox and Catholics.

Mormons are hurt by the snub, but it is the LDS church that is truly exclusionary. When the LDS church defines “the one true church” it leaves everyone else out. It says that all baptisms are invalid outside of the LDS church. It says that taking the sacrament is invalid everywhere outside the LDS church. It says that there is no priesthood authority outside the LDS church. In effect, the LDS church’s position that it is the one and only true church is saying that there is no true Christian worship outside of Mormonism.

The LDS church teaches that Mormons can not worship in spirit and in truth anywhere but within the LDS church. I, on the other hand, am saying that Christians can worship in spirit and truth in thousands of different churches.

My exclusivity leaves out the practice of 12 million Mormons. Mormon exclusivity leaves out the practice of 1.5 billion non-LDS Christians. Mormons like to say “you have truth, we have more” but that is not what the assertion of being the one true church means. It means that all other churches are false.

With Fear & Trembling — Mormonism Isn’t Christian

With fear and trembling I offer this post. First off, I want to make it clear that this is not my battle. I’m not overly interested in pushing this conversation or convincing LDS of my point of view. But I do seek greater understanding and I want to find a way to explain myself clearly.


Evangelicals and Mormons often squabble over a battle on whether or not Mormonism is Christian. There’s no doubt in my mind that Mormonism definitely belongs to Christianity, it didn’t come out of Hinduism, Buddhism or any other major religion. But the question is, at what point does a faith change a major religion’s core tenets so drastically that it no longer resembles its birth religion.

Mormons do not understand how the rest of Christianity can claim that Mormonism is not Christian. I wonder if this might be more helpful in explaining our (the non-LDS) viewpoint? My recent post on “Worshiping Jesus” pointed out that there doesn’t seem to be a universal Mormon understanding on whether or not Jesus is to be worshiped as God (capital G). Instead (many) Mormons exclusively worship the Father and hold Jesus as one of many gods (small g).

I would contend that historically and traditionally, Christians have always recognized Jesus as God (capital G) and have always worshiped him as such. To worship Christ is to be Christian. If someone does not worship Christ as God how can they properly be called “Christian”? In as much as MormonISM does not teach people to worship Christ as God it is not a Christian religion.

There are some Mormons who do worship Christ as God, I’m content to say that they are Christian (though heretical). But Mormons who do not worship Christ as God are no more Christian than Muslims (who recognize and revere Jesus as an important agent of God). At the point in time that the LDS church clearly recognizes Jesus as God (capital G) and instructs its members to worship him as such I will be willing to concede that it is Christian (though still heretical on many other points).

If you were to ask me “Why don’t you think Mormons are Christian?” and I responded “Because they don’t worship Jesus as God” would that be an explanatory statement?

* I should also clarify that I believe only Jesus has the right and power to define an individual as a true Christian. The point of this conversation is to set theological definitions in a meaningful way and to determine if the LDS church as an organization fits the definition of “Christian”.

Lay Clergy in the Mormon Church

Among the unique aspects of the Mormon Church is the institution of a lay clergy. With the exception of a few leaders at the very top of the church’s hierarchy, almost all leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are lay clergy, without professional training or salary. I am unaware of any other Christian denomination¹ that relies so heavily on its rank and file to perform the functions necessary for worship and administration. I understand that certain early Methodist congregations would sometimes appoint a lay minister, who would receive some leadership training and ride in a circuit, preaching to different congregations; this is very similar to the Mormon tradition during the mid 1800’s. But in modern times the Mormon Church is relatively unique in this respect.²

What this means for a practicing Mormon is that he or she will almost always have some sort of church responsibility, usually referred to as “callings.” Per the recommendation of Mormon Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, even new members of the faith soon have duties commensurate with their level of experience or ability. Some of these callings involve practical necessities, such as cleaning a meeting house or helping disabled congregation members around the house. However, most callings involve an element of overseeing the spiritual well-being of other parishioners. For example, most active members of a Mormon congregation can expect to be called on to teach a Sunday School lesson or give a talk during Sunday services, as well as looking out for the needs of several other individuals or families in the congregation.

Sometimes I feel jealous of people who go to other churches, especially if I have to wake up for early Sunday meetings. My evangelical friends are very active in their congregations, and yet they don’t seem to spend so much time doing church things. On top of the standard three hours of Sunday services, many Mormons can expect meetings during the week, youth activities on weekends, and performing and receiving visits as part of the “home teaching” program of the church. Depending on one’s calling, Sunday may not be quite as relaxing as the label “Day of Rest” would seem to suggest.

I recently moved and changed congregations, necessitating my “release” from the calling I had been in charge of. Because my responsibility had been fairly time-consuming, I suddenly found myself with more time on my hands. And while I’ve appreciated the extra hours, I also miss taking part in the functions of the congregation. Though I may be jealous of my friends in other churches, I don’t actually want to give up the participatory nature of Mormon religion. It has its down sides, but it certainly helps me be less selfish and more inclined to help other people. I’m sure that things could be done much more effectively with a professional clergy, but that probably wouldn’t help me as much personally.

It’s only a matter of time before I am given a new calling in my new congregation. It might be to teach a Sunday School class or to pick up hymnals after meetings or to help members of the congregation find or upgrade their employment. Whatever the assignment, I’ll once again be part of the machinery that makes each congregation run. And as much as I would like to have a leisurely Sunday, it’s a part of my life that I need. It isn’t a perfect system, but hey, we’re not perfect people.


1. The question of whether Mormonism is a Christian sect is another topic entirely. However, for the purposes of this discussion, let us loosely define “Christian” as any denomination that identifies with the Christian tradition.
2. I know Buddhism involves the laity in certain roles, but given Buddhism’s lack of rigid hierarchy, I think the comparison is only approximate.

Woshipping Jesus

There is one fundamental question about Mormonism that I can’t seem to find a consistent answer about.  The question is: “Do LDS worship Jesus as their God?” (as other Christians do).

I know that the LDS esteem Jesus as Saviour and Redeemer.  I know that they consider him a god, creator of the world and part of the Godhood.  I know that they view him as the only way to the Father. I know that they seek to emulate his life.  And, YES, by all means I know that his name is right there as part of your church’s name.

While I see all of those things as important and unique to Jesus, the thing that seems to seperate Christians from all other religions is that they worship and praise Jesus as God.  But LDS seem hesitant to agree or at least come to a consesus on the matter.

I’ve read an lecture by Bruce McConkie in which he makes it quite clear that worshipping any one other than Heavenly Father is inappropriate and is idolatry. I know many LDS who disagree with him.  What is your stance? Is this a generational shift in LDS doctrine?