Friday, June 22, 2007

Are Mormons Christians?

In our recent discussion on the Episcomuslim priest, MethoDeist asked:

Do Christians consider Mormons to be a part of the Christian faith?

Or, are Mormons considered their own theological belief system separate from Christianity?

If they are not considered Christians then why is that?

What are the criteria (creeds, beliefs, principles) that an individual/group should adhere to so that they can be considered a Christian?

These are very good questions. I don't think that Mormons are Christians, but just don't have the time to answer them comprehensively. I invite our readers to express their opinions in the comments.

By the way, MethoDeist has some very thoughtful posts at his own blog, such as this one on theodicy from a Deist perspective.


Dan Trabue said...

"What are the criteria (creeds, beliefs, principles) that an individual/group should adhere to so that they can be considered a Christian?"


That Jesus is God's son.

That we need God's gift of salvation and accept it.

That we repent of our sins and make Jesus our Lord (ie, make Jesus' teachings to us about how to live our guidelines for living).

That's all.

Not "believe the Bible to be infallible."

Not "believe in virgin birth, triune nature of God, a 6 day creation, and believe a few dozen other rules that we say you need to believe."

To the extent that mormons (or Muslims or Baptists or anyone else) embraces Jesus' Way and accepts God's gift of salvation, they are "working out their salvation with fear and trembling."

To the extent that they reject Jesus' Way and gift of salvation, well, they're rejecting it.

Seems to me.

Sanctimonious Hypocrite said...

Some Mormons are Christians. Official Mormon theology is probably not Christian (to the extent that I understand either), but the theology of the thief on the cross probably wasn't either.

Divers and Sundry said...

In the UMC Mormons must receive Christian baptism in order to join the church, unlike members of Christian denominations such as Catholics, Baptists, etc.

from or :

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by self-definition, does not fit within the bounds of the historic, apostolic tradition of Christian faith. This conclusion is supported by the fact that the LDS church itself, while calling itself Christian, explicitly professes a distinction and separateness from the ecumenical community and is intentional about clarifying significant differences in doctrine. As United Methodists we agree with their assessment that the LDS church is not a part of the historic, apostolic tradition of the Christian faith."

some reasons from or :

"The most readily identifiable difference between the two traditions is that of sacred and authoritative Scriptures."

"The LDS church clearly rejects the creeds that The United Methodist Church uses to interpret the Bible. This rejection of the historic creeds of the church is actually foundational to the establishment of the LDS religion."

"...belief regarding a gendered, married, and procreating god is at the core of LDS doctrine of God and makes claims about the essential nature of God that are in sharp contrast to the doctrinal statements of United Methodism."

"Basic Christological differences exist between the two traditions....Most notably, the Jesus of the LDS tradition is not co-eternal with the Father and "of one substance with the Father." On the contrary, he is thought to be begotten of the Father (and Heavenly Mother) as are all pre-mortal spirits....Of course, these convictions stand in clear opposition to the creeds of the apostolic Christian tradition and to the doctrinal standards of The United Methodist Church."

"The LDS understanding of the nature of salvation diverges radically. According to the LDS, human beings are literally the children of the Heavenly Father (and Mother) in their pre-mortal, spiritual form, as was Jesus. Their spirits are begotten of the Father, not created. This makes them of the same order of existence as God:" and "according to LDS theology, there are already in existence the three gods of the Godhead and a god who presumably presided over the mortality of the Father. There will be more gods to come, as at least some of those at an earlier stage of the "divine continuum" will become gods, as did the Father. Thus by traditional Christian definition, the LDS faith is polytheistic, and the role of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is decidedly compromised."

There is lots more at the gbod pages linked above, but, Whew! this comment is long enough already! I got carried away. Sorry about that.....

rocksalive777 said...

Dan brings up an interesting point when he mentions accepting God's gift of salvation. The Mormon doctrine that we are saved by faith "after all that we can do" (2 Nephi 25:13; related is Alma 41:3), which is standard doctrine for all Mormons (thus, the two year mission for all men, along with various other requirements imposed by the LDS organization) seemingly reject the gift of salvation.

Mormon theology ("As man is, God once was; as God is, man may be." along with the teachings on God as literal father and the outright rejection of the Trinity or even Jesus as eternal) bothers me deeply and prevents me from being able to call Mormons Christian.

On an odd note, the Book of Mormon contradicts Mormon doctrine at several key points (the existence of multiple gods among them).

Keith Taylor said...

Divers and sundry and Sanctimonious both make excellent points here.

As a corporate body, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints cannot be a considered a Christian organization. However, does that mean that all Mormons aren’t saved Christians? Of course not. I am sure there are plenty of Mormons that are trusting in Christ for their salvation and are saved by that faith in Christ and when they die, they will go to heaven. Dan makes a good point in that regard. However, The problem is that the Mormon Church itself is flawed because it was founded by a charlatan who dreamed the whole thing up as a Money Digging Scheme. However, he learned that there was more to be made in a duped up false faith. Much of what the LDS church officially believes is not even known to the average Joe or Jane Mormon sitting in the pew. It is kept a secret. It is a collection of Joseph Smith’s imagination and combined with a dash of Freemasonry Rituals. The average Mormon doesn’t know that their church teaches that Jesus and Lucifer were literal brothers and Lucifer rebelled because God the Father like Jesus’ plan for the salvation of man better than his brother Lucifer. Most Mormons don’t know that they believe they will all be gods someday with co-equal powers as God the Father to create their own worlds and be supreme rulers over.

With that said, there are lots of churchgoers who regularly attend mainline apostolic churches, like the UMC, that are not saved and when they die will be lost as well.

So are some Mormons Christians, the answer is yes. Is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints a Christian Church? The answer to that has to be, NO.

Devin said...

I think we are but, my Pastor friends fall into the folloing camps:

Jimmy Akin puts this way-

"..So after all that, are Mormons Christian? In all my experience, I’ve concluded that the answer to that question is: it depends on who’s asking and who’s answering. They vigorously claim to be Christians, and if one considers “Christian” to mean “one who loves and serves God the Father and Christ His Son,” without concern for right doctrine, LDS definitely fall into that category. But if one considers “Christian” to include following the teachings of God as revealed through Christ and handed on through the Church, then they are definitely not.

Divers and Sundry said...

My point is just that the official position of the UMC is that the Mormon (LDS) church is not a Christian church and members of the Latter Day Saints must -no matter what their personal beliefs are- receive Christian baptism in order to join the UMC. Mormons, according to the official position of the UMC, do not belong to a Christian church.

We can discuss what it means personally to be a Christian, but when push comes to shove, the UMC considers Mormons who join our church to be converts to Christianity.

Ignobleone said...

As Dan states, a Christian believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the one true God who was sacrificed outside the temple that we may be saved and be in relationship with God, and that is all. An LDS memeber who is allowed to attend temple must deny that truth.

No, one cannot believe and follow the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints and be a believer in and follower of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth the Christ, the son of the one true God.

At the core of its theology the LDS espouses the satanic gospel that we are, or can become god. The belief is that divinity is acheived by human effort and following the LDS law. The LDS is the most successful cult in the Americas today.

Anyone interested in knowing the uniguely anti-Christian teachings of the LDS needs to talk to a former full-member of the LDS. Ask about the magic underwear.

John said...

Deciding what Mormons belief about who Christ is rapidly becomes a he-said/she-said exchange. But one thing is clear: the LDS believes that the Church was lost and apostate before the revelation of Moroni. My theology can be traced back to Wesley who lived before John Smith's trip to the forest (and hence was apostate) and back through the historic Church of the ages. So if the LDS thinks that I'm not a true believer, then it must also be true that the LDS does not conform to the Christianity that I adhere to.

The LDS' public relations department can't have it both ways: they can't say that they're Christians just like us, except that we're not really Christians.

Divers and Sundry said...

John said, "...they can't say that they're Christians just like us, except that we're not really Christians."

I think their church believes that _they_ are really Christians and we're not. They claim to be the restoration of the Church. For example, they say, "Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, God restored His Church to the earth." and

According to its own doctrines, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ... is a unique restoration of the original Church established by Jesus Christ in the First Century BC. The latter fell into apostasy, but was re-established in the early 19th. Century through a series of revelations to the prophet Joseph Smith Jr. If these claims are true, the Church represents God's Kingdom here on earth.

Carl said...

This comment thread has had some good points both ways (many comments about Mormons in many blogs are very hate filled). I have to go back to Dan’s comments and agree, although I do believe core Mormon teachings do not hold up to the historical church. What I find interesting though is that many other Church groups do not either such as the Four Square Church. The historical Church view and is not even close to the Four Square when it comes to Charismatic Gifts (especially that you MUST speak in tongues as proof of your redemption). Yet most Evangelicals look the other way here and in many other false doctrines in other so called Christian Denominations while attacking Mormons.
My experience as someone who once attended a Baptist Church and currently lives in a small Evangelical town is that many of these church member forget that Jesus taught us to: “Love the Lord God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself” and also forget that in Matt. 7:16 and following: “You will know them by their fruits” and “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit”.

My family has been severely harmed emotionally, physically, and financially due to judgments and rumors that have even followed us to our new home over my son’s autism, my wife’s nervous breakdown and my so called failures. Yet I have found many Mormons to be much less supportive.
Bottom line is that many Evangelicals are like the Priests of Jesus day in their correct knowledge of the scriptures but total lack of application while many Mormons seem to get that part right; who is bearing good fruit?

Carl Strohmeyer

Carl; My Thoughts

Divers and Sundry said...

I found some info on the positions of some churches other than the UMC:

Southern Baptists and Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics and the Orthodox (can't find the link right now) agree with the UMC position. It seems to be one of the things the traditional Christian churches agree on.

Art said...

As with others, I take the approach that if Mormons consider themselves Christian, then I do too - despite any misgivings I may have about their beliefs. I know that doesn't really answer the question but this approach works for me...

RERC said...

I took Steve Tsoukalas's class on cults and religious movements several years ago at ATS. Mormonism was thoroughly discussed and researched. Let me say that the more one knows about Mormon beliefs and how the whole religion came about, the less one will believe that Mormons are Christians.

Interestingly, the book that helped me the most to understand this religious movement was not one assigned for class, but the excellent and secular [e.g no fundamentalist Christian axe to grind in labeling Mormonism a cult] was Mormon America by Richard and Joan Ostling.

It gives a concise history of the Mormons, delves into their theology, and shows how that plays itself out in the lives of ordinary Mormons. They devote an entire chapter to the question, "Are Mormons Christians?" Taking the information they have gathered into account, they also conclude the answer is "no."


Divers and Sundry said...

Art said, "if Mormons consider themselves Christian, then I do too..."

I accept that Mormons consider themselves to be Christians, and I do not argue the point with members of the LDS. I think some discernment is called for, though, in not accepting every group that _claims_ to be Christian at its word. When I'm raising my children, I have to be able to tell them which groups are Christian churches and which groups -no matter what the groups themselves claim- are outside the Christian Tradition. I don't want my kids joining a group because they've been mislead into thinking it's just another Christian denomination. Someday I hope to have grandchildren, and I'd like to see them baptized into the _Christian_ faith.

Big G said...

Which Is the "Christian Doctrine?"

Which Is the "Christian" Doctrine?

Suppose for a moment that the Latter-day Saints were to take seriously the demand that they conform in every particular to "Christian" doctrine, and that they then made the attempt to do so. Having complied with such a demand, would the Latter-day Saints find themselves in total agreement with Protestants or with Catholics? Would they believe in apostolic succession or in the priesthood of all believers? Would they recognize an archbishop, a patriarch, a pope, a monarch, or no one at all as the head of Christ's church on earth? Would they be saved by grace alone, or would they find the sacraments of the church necessary for salvation? Would they believe in free will or in predestination? Would they practice water baptism? If so, would it be by immersion, sprinkling, or some other method? Would they believe in a substitutionary, representative, or exemplary atonement? Would they or would they not believe in "original sin"? And on and on.

It is unreasonable for other Christians to demand that Latter-day Saints conform to a single standard of "Christian" doctrine when they do not agree among themselves upon exactly what that standard is. To do so is to establish a double standard; doctrinal diversity is tolerated in some churches, but not in others. The often-heard claim that all true Christians share a common core of necessary Christian doctrine rests on the dubious proposition that all present differences between Christian denominations are over purely secondary or even trivial matters-matters not central to Christian faith. This view is very difficult to defend in the light of Christian history, and might be easier to accept if Protestants and Catholics- or Protestants and Protestants, for that mat-ter-had not once burned each other at the stake as non-Christian heretics over these same "trivial" differences.

Big G said...

The LDS Church as a "Cult"

The nasty name most frequently flung at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by its detractors is "cult." Undoubtedly the term is meant to call up images of Druids burning captives alive in wicker baskets, of painted priests flinging virgins into volcanoes, or of satanic rituals performed in the dark of the moon. When critics call the LDS church a "cult," the implied logic seems to be that there are objective criteria for distinguishing "cults" from "religions," and that since Mormonism is a "cult" and Christianity is a "religion," Mormons can't be Christians. One flaw in this logic is that there are in fact no such objective criteria for distinguishing cults from religions, as a quick look at Webster's Third New International Dictionary will show. There the pertinent definitions under the entry "cult" are as follows:

1: religious practice: worship 2: a system of beliefs and ritual connected with the worship of a deity, a spirit, or a group of deities or spirits 3a: the rites, ceremonies, and practices of a religion: the formal aspect of religious experience b Roman Catholicism: reverence and ceremonial veneration paid to God or to the Virgin Mary or to the saints or to objects that symbolize or otherwise represent them 4: a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also: a minority religious group holding beliefs regarded as unorthodox or spurious: sect.fn

One can clearly see that in definitions 1, 2, and 3 there is no distinction between a cult and a religion-the terms are in fact quite synonymous. It is only definition 4 that comes close to the meaning desired by anti-Mormons. Use of the term cult in this latter sense, however, says nothing objective about a religion itself. Such language merely communicates a speaker's negative evaluation of the religion in question. With its negative connotations the term cult does not describe what a religion is, only how it is regarded, and simply means "a religion [usually one smaller or newer than mine] that I don't like." It is a word that communicates information about the speaker rather than about the thing described. Cult is therefore a totally subjective rather than objective term. To both the pagans and the Jews, earliest Christianity was a "cult," but this says nothing objective about Christianity except that it was disliked by those who so described it. There is no objective definition for the word cult in standard English that does what the anti-Mormons want it to do.

Nevertheless there have been many attempts to define cult in an objective way without losing the term's negative connotations. So far all these attempts have failed. Let us take, for example, the last and most ambitious definition proposed by the late Walter Martin. I single out this one only because, from a non-Mormon view, Martin is certainly the consensus expert on this subject, and in his latest and longest definition of cult he renders his most complete explanation of the term. In his proposed objective definition Martin lists ten characteristics common to cults which he believes distinguish them from legitimate religions.fnAt the conclusion of his list the author assures the reader that "we have presented here all of the essential marks which distinguish many of the new cults from the rest of society and from the biblical Christian church."fn

The flaw, however, in the proposed definition-and the Achilles' heel for all such definitions of cult-is that any objective definition of cult that can be applied to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can also be applied to the Christian church of the New Testament and to most of today's mainline denominations when they were in their infancy. Let's examine Martin's ten points one at a time.

1. "Cults, new as well as old, are usually started by strong and dynamic leaders who are in complete control of their followers."

Certainly Jesus Christ must be reckoned a strong and dynamic leader. Is there any doubt that Jesus was in complete control of his followers, or that the disciples would have done anything for him, including the giving of their lives? Jesus asked his followers to give up everything (see Matt. 19:27-29; 16:24), and on occasion refused permission to his disciples even to carry out social obligations to their families (Luke 9:57-62). Was New Testament Christianity a "cult" because Jesus was a strong and dynamic leader in complete control of his followers?

2. "All cults possess some Scripture that is either added to or which replaces the Bible as God's Word."

A major claim of the early Christian church was that the new covenant of the gospel and the New Testament that records it superseded the old covenant of the law of Moses and the Old Testament that records it (Gal. 3:24-29; Heb. 8:7-13; 10:8). To the scriptures accepted during Jesus' lifetime as the word of God the Christians added at least four Gospels, a book of Acts, twenty-one Epistles, and an Apocalypse. The Jews were just as incensed at these spurious (from their point of view) additions to God's word in the period of the early Church as anti-Mormon critics are at the Book of Mormon today. Since the early Christians both added books to the previously accepted canon of scripture and insisted that the New Testament fulfilled and superseded the Old, this is another indication, using Walter Martin's definition, that early Christianity was a "cult."

3. "The new cults have rigid standards for membership and accept no members who will not become integrally involved in the group."

According to Jesus, "strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matt. 7:14). The Apostle Paul warned the Corinthian Christians that "if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat .... Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person." ( 1 Cor. 5:11, t 3.) Apparently the conditions for fellowship at Corinth were fairly strict. Paul went on to tell the Corinthians that "neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthains 6:9-10). Surely if insistence upon high standards makes a religious movement a "cult," then early Christianity qualifies.

Furthermore, if insisting that members become integrally involved in the group is characteristic of "cults," what shall we do with Paul's demand in 2 Cor. 6:14, 15, and 177 "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?... Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you."

It is hard for me to understand how anyone versed in the New Testament could believe that Jesus did not require a high standard of righteousness of his followers, or that he found a partial commitment to his gospel as acceptable as a total commitment. The evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. But because early Christianity demanded high standards and a total commitment, was it therefore a "cult"?

4. "Cultists often become members of one cult after membership in one or more other cults."

This part of the definition is circular, since you already have to know what a cult is before you can use the term. Even so, let us consider it briefly in an ancient context. From the viewpoint of the Jews and Romans both the movement of John the Baptist and that of Jesus were "cults." John 1:35-37 tells us that two of the disciples of John the Baptist later became disciples of Jesus, and it is likely that many others did as well. According to Martin's reasoning, this change of affiliation could indicate they were cultists.

5. "The new cults are actively evangelistic and spend much of their time in proselytizing new converts."

According to Matt. 28:19-20, after his resurrection Jesus told his disciples: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." The Apostle Paul certainly spent "much of [his] time in proselytizing new converts." Again the New Testament Church qualifies as a cult under this definition.

6. "Often we find that the leaders or officials of the new cults are not professional clergymen."

The Jewish high priests noticed this very thing about Peter and John, "that they were unlearned and ignorant men" (Acts 4:13). Jesus was a carpenter by trade; and Peter, James, and John were fishermen.

7. "All the new cults have a system of doctrine and practice which is in some state of flux."

Flux is a relative term. During the forty-day period following the resurrection of Jesus, the Apostles certainly learned a lot of new things that they hadn't known from the beginnings in Galilee (Acts 1:3). Some years after the resurrection of Jesus, Peter received a vision changing the Christian attitude toward Gentiles and the role of the law of Moses (Acts 10). Paul's private opinions about remarriage became Christian doctrine and biblical teaching in 1 Cor. 7:6-9, 12, 25, 40. In New Testament times the Church held a council to decide whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised (Acts 15) and beyond the New Testament period "orthodox" Christianity held many councils to determine or to clarify its doctrines and policies, from the Council of Nicaea to the Second Vatican Council in our own century. All of these councils settled questions neither asked nor answered in the Bible. Was Christianity "in flux" and a "cult" because its earliest leaders continued to receive revelations even after the ascension of Christ, or because the later church was still working out its view of the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost centuries after the death of Jesus?

8. "In harmony with Christian theology, the new cults all believe that there is continual, ongoing communication from God. However, the cults differ from the biblical Christian church in believing that their new 'revelations' can contradict and even at times supersede God's first revelation, the Bible."

According to Walter Martin the contradiction of previous revelation by new revelation is a sure sign of a cult. Yet God has often given one commandment to his children at one time and then later replaced it with another. He did this to Abraham merely to test him (Gen. 22:2, 12). But the best example of God exercising his prerogative to command and then revoke comes in the case of the law of Moses, given to Israel by God and recorded in the Bible. This law was both contradicted (compare Gen. 17:7, 14 with Gal. 5:1-4) and superseded (Gal. 3:24-29; Heb. 8:7-13; 10:8) by later revelation. The early Christians simply believed that although God had spoken once upon Sinai and had given them scriptures, he now spoke to them again and had given new revelations that superseded the old ones. Many Jews continue to be scandalized that Christians, who worship the God of Israel, could ignore the law given to Israel on Sinai.

9. "The new cults claim to have truth not available to any other groups or individuals."

On one occasion, when many were offended at Jesus and were leaving him, the Savior turned to the Twelve and asked if they would also go away. Peter responded, "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life." (John 6:66-68.) The early Christians knew that there wasn't any other source for divine truth but Jesus. Jesus himself said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). In other words, Jesus offered to the early Christian church "truth not available to any other groups or individuals" from any other source. Again early Christianity qualifies as a cult under the proposed definition.

10. "The last major characteristic of the new cults concerns cultic vocabulary. Each cult has an initiate vocabulary by which it describes the truths of its revelation. Sometimes the 'in words' of a particular cult are the words of orthodox Christianity, but in- vested with new meanings. . . . At other times the cult may coin new words or phrases."

Much of the vocabulary of the New Testament Church came from Judaism. Some of the vocabulary retained its Jewish meaning (for example, Messiah and resurrection), but many of the old words (such as Israel, covenant, and grace) were defined and used in new ways. Older Jewish practices were given new meanings: the Sabbath meal became the Lord's Supper; the Jewish purification rite became Christian baptism; the Sabbath became the Lord's Day. Eventually new terms were coined, such as Millennium, Advent, Second Coming, or Trinity.

Thus we see that out of the ten characteristics proposed as objective criteria for identifying "cults," the early Christian Church manifests all ten-a perfect score. What does this tell us? Only that as an objective means of distinguishing false "cults" from legitimate "religions" the proposed definition fails, not because it's badly done but because what it attempts to do cannot be done. The word cult, used with negative connotations, is simply not an objective term, and attempts to make it such lead to absurd conclusions: by the ten-point definition proposed above, early Christianity was a "cult."

Now, certainly there are religions that many outsiders dislike, and we might all agree to call these religions "cults," but the label still describes only our common opinion of that religion and not the religion itself. There are simply no objective criteria for distinguishing religions from "cults." Stephen Robinson