ARE MORMONS CHRISTIANS?
An Analysis of LDS Claims
As a former Mormon myself I know what a touchy question this is for Mormons and how difficult it is for most Evangelical Christians to understand their mind-frame. Most evangelicals correctly base their definitions on what the Bible says a Christian is but forget that Mormons come from a completely different paradigm, even though they claim the Bible to be the Word of God (even though with the slippery caveat, "so long as it is translated correctly"). As evangelicals have already done, by and large, a good job in defining what a biblical Christian is, I propose today to launch out from the Mormon perspective and test that perspective for internal consistency, logic and -- finally -- its relation to the New Testament.
Towards a Mormon Definition: The Church name
The closest to an LDS (Latter-day Saint = Mormon) definition of a Christian that I have seen to date is an advertisement for a book published by Deseret Books containing what for Mormons amount to "difficult questions". The question is as follows: Why do some critics of the [LDS] Church say that Mormons aren't Christians?
The answer given is as follows:
"Often those saying that Mormons are not Christians do so with the knowledge that the proper name of the Church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
That the LDS Church contains the title "Church of Jesus Christ" cannot, of course, be denied, but a title does not necessarily reflect true belief. The main Mormon rival Church, the "Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints", headquartered in Independence, Missouri, also has "Church of Jesus Christ" in their name. And Mormons most certainly do not recognise the RLDS as true Christians since they regard them as being "apostate". There are a good many churches with this same designation, including another Mormon break-off called "The Church of Jesus Christ" based in Pennsylvania.
Having the name of the Saviour in the title of one's church proves nothing. One could take the argument to ridiculous extremes. The Church I am a member of contains the title, "Church of God". Since the LDS Church does not contain a reference to God, does it mean they believe in Christ but not God? Such an opening response to what is a very serious questions for both Mormons and evangelical Christians like myself is very disappointing, to say the least.
Is Christ at the Centre?
"They [the critics] are equally aware that our faith centers in Christ, as do our doctrines."
Here we have to half agree with the Mormons -- yes, Christ is at the centre of the LDS faith and LDS doctrines. But the main difference between evangelical Christian and, we maintain, biblical, teaching is that ONLY Christ is at the centre of Christianity. But this is not so in Mormonism. Yes, Christ is at the centre but TOGETHER with their claim for sole authority. In other words, to be a true Christian in Mormon eyes, you have to be in their Church which alone has legal authority to represent Christ. It is also strange, is it not, that whilst Mormons insist that evangelical Christians recognise them as "Christian" they will not extend the same recognition back to evangelical Christians who are, in their eyes, "apostate" like their RLDS cousins.
This, then, is only a half-truth. Whereas evangelical Christians can truly say that Christ, and Christ alone, is at the centre of their belief (as indeed the Bible teaches), Mormons are forced by their religious system to include the claim to divine authority, in the same way that Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians do, Jehovah's Witnesses, and a few others.
I could actually add to this list. The Mormon prophet Joseph Smith claimed that were the Book of Mormon to be taken away from Mormonism, there would be no Mormonism left. So to Christ and divine authority we can add the Book of Mormon. And I could add more, like Priesthood, Temple ordinances, etc.. No, the truth of the matter is, if you look at Mormonism objectively, Christ is but one of several "centres" -- part of a package, if you like. Indeed, that package includes humans too, especially their prophet. Do away with an LDS prophet, and their 12 apostles, and you have no Mormonism either. Their Church would fragment (as it has many times) and likely collapse too.
I have not, at this stage, examined what they mean by "Jesus Christ" because evangelical Christians ask the legitimate question: Is the Christ of Mormonism the same as the Christ of the Bible? That question I will not deal with just yet.
A Christ-Like People?
"Most [critics] will concede that in practice we are a very Christ-like people."
That many of the LDS people are Christ-like, that is, showing the fruits of faith in Christ, I do not doubt. I have met them. But I have met hundreds from the evangelical Christian movement, and some outseide it, who are also Christ-like. I mention this only because the Mormons claim that whilst there is "some light" in the other churches, they still regard them as "apostate" and that they will be "lost" if they do not become members of the Mormon system. It is my personal belief -- and the belief of the New Covenant Church of God -- that there are many Mormons who indeed display Christ-like tendencies but I would also maintain that, because of the mental and emotional straight-jacket their system places them in, they are missing at least some elements of Christ-likeness that would bring them a fullness of joy, namely, the freedom and peace that comes from being outside a man-made system. The latter I have seen in many evangelical Christians but rarely amongst Mormons, because deep down they live in fear -- a fear created by a system of bondage -- a fear created by such demands that their leaders have historically placed on them such as doing what a leaders orders even if that leader is wrong. They are in a system which actually prevents them from taking their Christ-likeness to full fruition, and which in the end binds them down as slaves. This much I know from my own experience in and out of the Mormon Church.
A Non-Christian Cult
"Why, then, do they persist in labeling us as a non-Christian cult?"
For the reason I have given -- not because many of the people display fine Christ-like qualities -- and I emphasise, they really do, sometimes to the shame of many evangelical Christians who must in all fairness bear the stripes of LDS criticisms -- but because they are in bondage to a system which makes their human leaders intermediaries to Christ whether those leaders do right or wrong (since by LDS definitions, their prophet will never lead them astray). Brigham Young once declared that no Mormon could get into heaven unless Joseph Smith let him in with a certificate. Such statements, though enforced when Young was alive (as are all the teachings of the "living prophets" until they are dead) is now usually ignored, along with many of his other teachings. There is no security in the Mormon system -- you can never be sure if what the prophet is saying is true because once he is dead the next prophet may contradict him and you will be expected to adjust your doctrine to the new prophet's. Thus the ultimate doctrinal authority is not what is recorded in Scripture but what the current prophet says. How can anyone have spiritual security in that? Brigham Young once said that those who rejected his teachings would be "damned" -- by Young's definition, the current LDS leaders are "damned" for rejecting the Adam-God doctrine, blood atonement, and polygamy - to name just three. Yet today it is, in the modern LDS Church, "damnable" to accept Young's "damning" teachings!! Which is why there are about 30,000 fundamentalist Mormons outside the Mormon Church being faithful to Young -- I know some Christ-like persons among them too!.
Finally, I know people from non-Christian faiths, including atheists, who exhibit Christ-like qualities. I have a good personal friend who is a Unitarian who has wonderful Christ-like qualities. But he does not accept Jesus as His resurrected Saviour, Lord and God, even though he has been presented with the Gospel. I have a Muslim friend with fine Christ-like qualities, who, like so many others, lives the inner law of Christ without knowing the author of that law. But he is not a Christian because he openly rejects the Name of Christ! And he would resent it if I insisted he was. He claims to be a Shi'ite Muslim who worships Allah.
An Historical Difference
"The answer is in their [the critics'] history."
As far as I can tell, I haven't mentioned history at all so far! I have merely looked at LDS beliefs to see if they are consistent and have checked to see if the statements made so far hold water. They aren't, and they don't. But let's hear the LDS apologist further:
Open Revelation and the Creeds
The historical Christian world has declared the Bible to be complete and the heavens to be sealed to revelation. They have also declared the biblical descriptions of God to be simply metaphorical and accepted in their place a faith in the incorporeal and incomprehensible God of the early ecumenical councils. Because we do not accept as inspired the conclusions of those councils or embrace the notion that the heavens are sealed to modern revelation and that there are thus no apostles or prophets in our day, we are declared to be both unorthodox and unchristian. The irony is that it is our loyalty to Christian doctrines that gets us the label of non-Christian.
There is alot to comment on here because it is a hopeless mix of truth and falsehood. Let's take it step by step.
Firstly, we have to agree with the first statement...to a point. There are many evangelical Christians (a great many, in fact) who declare that the Bible is complete and that the heavens are silent to revelation. But the Mormons are out of touch if they think that all evangelicals share these beliefs. There has been a gradual movement in the more charismatic wing of evangelical Christianity to a concept of "more revelation". But it is true almost all evangelicals believe that the Bible is the only canonical scripture there is.
It is here that New Covenant Christians are minority evangelicals because we believe the Bible canon to be open, like Mormons. We also believe that the channel to heaven has always been open, as do many other evangelicals. So what they say is a half-truth. It probably would have been true a century-and-a-half ago when Mormonism started, but the Christian world has matured in this area. The difference between those evangelicals like us who accept an open canon and the principle of modern revelation, and the Mormon claims to the same, is that we don't believe that most of the Mormon revelations are from God at all, but are anti-biblical. It is one thing to acknowledge a general principle such as an open canon and modern revelation (full marks to the LDS here) but we do seriously question their ability to have modern revelation given their track record. Again, this is another question.
Secondly, not all evangelical Christians declare the descriptions of God to be purely "metaphorical". Many do, yes, but not all. The Mormons go much further than merely describing God in anthropomorphic terms (which the Bible certainly can be interpreted to be describing too) because they claim, contrary to crystal clear Bible teaching, that there are many Gods, anywhere from three (the modern LDS position) to billions of them (the early Mormon teaching of Brigham Young and his immediate successors). The Bible says, without the slightest ambiguity, that there is only ONE GOD, and His Name is Yahweh-Elohim.
Now the Mormons must be honest here. Their Godhead doctrine seems to change all the time. They began as Trinitarians, became Unitarians ("modalists", to be precise, the Book of Mormon teaching), then became Binitarians -- two Gods (at Kirtland), then Tritheists -- three Gods (at Nauvoo), then rampant Polytheists -- billions of gods (in early Utah), to then return to their moderate polytheism of three Gods today. At least orthodox Christians have a stable doctrine! But we agree with them that the Trinitarian formulation is speculative theology, but we won't go as far as to say it is "apostate" teaching. There are some really deep teachings in the Bible which man cannot be expected to fathom but which Trinitarian formulations can explain better than LDS polytheism, such as the instance in which Jesus told Nicodemus that He was simultaneously in heaven and on earth, something Mormons in their physical mind-frame cannot fathom. New Covenant Christians are not dogmatic about Godhead formulations but we are emphatic that polytheism is not Biblical. Our LDS apologist will get more egg on his face than the orthodox Christians he opposes.
Thirdly, the Mormons aren't the only ones claiming apostles and prophets. There are millions of evangelicals (probably more than in the LDS Church) who recognise the apostolic and prophetic ministry. Admitedly they see apostolic ministry rather differently from the Mormons (and sometimes make fools of themselves) but their occasional off-beat prophecies and revelations are no less stupid than some of the wild claims made by men like Joseph Smith who claimed that people dressed like Quakers lived on the moon. Brigham Young even said there were inhabitants on the sun! Frankly, I am unimpressed by LDS claims to the prophetic gift. I have studied numerous LDS prophecies, most of which have failed, including the Second Coming of Christ. Again, it is one thing to maintain the truth of a principle (prophecy), and quite another to maintain that you are living it with divine approbation.
Finally, Mormons are not loyal to Biblical doctrine otherwise they would repeat, with Jews and orthodox Christians, the Bible Shema: "Hear, O Israel: Yahweh (the Lord) our Elohim (God) is one Yahweh (Lord)" (Dt.6:4). "There is one God, and there is none other but He" (Mt.12:32, KJV). To then claim that there are three Gods is to throw contempt on Jesus Christ Himself who declared this doctrine! Therefore Mormons are absolutely not loyal to themost fundamental Christian teaching! And I challenge any Mormon to refute the plain biblical teaching. Though they will say that Yahweh is the "God of this world", the truth of the matter is that it is Satan who is the "god of this world" who "hath blinded the minds of them which believe not" (2 Cor.4:4, KJV).
I ask the Mormon reader if in all honesty he can still claim Mormon doctrine to be "loyal" to the truth in the face of the blatent contradictions the biblical record makes to LDS teachings? There is only one answer to this question: Mormonism is not only wrong but dangerously wrong because its Godhead doctrine is pagan.
The Apostolic and Nicene Creeds
"The Catholic and Protestant world declare themselves Christians on the basis of their loyalty to what are known as the Apostolic and Nicene creeds. Thus the creeds become the issue. To fail to pay allegiance to the creeds is to be branded as non-Christian by those who do pay allegiance to them. These creeds, which represent a departure from biblical Christianity to what even their apologists call "philosophical speculation", define the nature of the Father and the Son in such a way that they are not literally father and son. Indeed, they are no longer viewed as separate and distinct personages, nor are they believed to be corporeal beings. The God of the creeds is "without body, parts, or passions," and the Son is merely the mind or reflection of the Father. Thus for the Latter-day Saints to be accepted as Christian by such a standard we must deny our faith that Christ is actually and literally the Son of God."
Like much of the other claims, this one is full of half-truths and smokescreens. Let's begin by admitting where the Mormons are right: yes, it is true, the Nicene Creed is a philosophical speculation and it is true that for many (misguided, in our view) Christians accepting this speculative theology is a test of true faith. However, not all Christians are of this mindframe. So we will agree with them about the Nicene creed.
But the Apostles' Creed is wholly another matter. This is totally and completely biblical. Every single word of it. But I wonder how many Mormons actually even know what it consists of? All Christians know it, and see in it pure biblical truth.
I will focus on one point only -- the Virgin Birth -- because this is found in the Apostles' Creed and is the unmistakable witness of the Bible. Mary, the mother of Jesus, had no sexual intercourse before she conceived and gave birth. The Book of Mormon, ironically, accepts this position, but official Mormon doctrine is that God the Father came down to earth and had sexual intercourse with Mary, thus making her pregnant. This is blatantly anti-biblical -- to subscribe to this doctrine you must eliminate large chunks of the New Testament Gospels. And though I shouldn't even need to mention the sources, Mormons ought to go and read Matthew 1 and Luke 1 very, very carefully to see what is taught. An angel of the Lord announced to a surprised Mary that she was pregnant, conceived of the Holy Spirit. Now if she had had intercourse with God the Father, you'd have thought that she would have known about it! But Brigham Young taught that the Holy Ghost could not have conceived Jesus in the womb of Mary because, he said, every time the Holy Ghost fell on a woman she would get pregnant, "thus causing considerable difficulties for the elders". Mormon doctrine is upside down. No, I have to say in all candour, that the Apostles' Creed is 100% correct, and the Mormon doctrine is far off the mark.
Now, again, I say, that the Mormons are out of date. They are, in many instances, quoting positions maintained by orthodox Christians over a hundred years ago. There are many evangelical Christians today, ourselves included, who challenge the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, but NONE of us can criticise the Apostles' Creed without undermining the Bible. Now were the Mormons to separate the Apostles' and Nicene creeds they would be more credible, but they cannot, because they are committed to a non-biblical view of the miraculous conception.
Of Christians and Saints
Although we are willing to accord all people the right to believe "how, where, or what they may" (Article of Faith 11), we are not willing to concede the right to determine whether we are Christian or not."
We are playing at semantics here. Mormons may call themselves Christians if they want to, or even Buddhists or Atheists -- that is entirely their business -- but they cannot expect other Christians to acknowledge that they are Christians if their doctrines and practices are flagrantly anti-biblical. I have Catholic friends who call themselves "Christians" and I grant them that right. But I do not regard them as Christians in the biblical sense because their doctrines are often anti-biblical. (There are even some evangelicals whom I doubt are Christians, and many who doubt we are too!). But it is the duty of every self-professing Christian to "judge the household of faith" -- we are commanded to. We are to leave judgment of the world up to God. And since Mormons insist they are Christians, we have every right to measure their claims against the Bible to see if they really are.
As a New Covenant Christian I am able to recommend the Baptist, Methodist and other evangelical Churches to my friends because I know they are Christian in all the essential, saving doctrines of the faith, even if I think they are wrong on many issues. But I could not do the same with the Mormon Church. I could not, in all conscience, recommend it as a Christian Church. I could say: "These are the Mormons. They believe this and that. I respect their right to believe that, and to worship freely" but I cannot, with my hand on my heart, say they are "Christians". And if they are honest with themselves, they cannot say the same of us. In fact, they openly declare us to be "apostate". Fair enough. We believe they are heretics. But we cannot recognise them as Christian even though there are many who display Christ-like virtues and many who espouse true doctrines. Such is the reality of life.
"Significantly, the Bible gives no definition of a Christian; rather, those loyal to Christ are called "saints" (Acts 9:13; 26:10). The word Christian is only found three times in the biblical text; each time it appears to be an epithet given the Saints by those opposing them (see Acts 11:26; 26:8; 1 Peter 4:16)."
With all respect, this is just a smoke screen. The issue is not about a single word "Christian" but whether Mormons are true followers of Christ or not. The Book of Mormon calls the saints "Christians" too, though it does not explain how the word came into existence, since, as the Mormons rightly point out, it was a epithet given by their enemies across the Atlantic Ocean in the Middle East. So how on earth did it get into the Book of Mormon? By e-mail??
This is just a red herring. Christians call themselves "saints" too, but we would question the right of the Mormons to use this word in the same way as we would the word "Chistian", irrespective of the source of either words. Ironically, "Mormon" is an epithet too, yet they have not objected to its use until recently in the wake of their desire to be known as Christians. Just as "Mormon" will stick to them, so "Christian" will stick to us. And it is appropriate, since we are followers of Christ and they are follows of a mythological character called "Mormon" who spoke of a "christ" different from the Biblical Christ, whom Joseph Smith changed from being the Eternal God (John 1:1) to a "spirit brother" .
An Agreed Definition
"A dictionary definition of Christian is simply one who professes belief a belief in or follows the teachings of Christ. Because Latter-day Saints both believe and follow Christ, we declare ourselves to be Christians."
OK, this is the crux, then. The Mormons follow the dictionary whereas Christians follow the Bible. It is a question of semantics. For the Mormon, to be a "Christian" is one who acknowledges the dictionary definition of him. What the dictionary does not do is tell you what those teachings of Christ are. The fact of the matter is, we use the word differently.
Let us agree, then, that there are two uses of the word "Christian":
If we accept the first definition, we must accept Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Moonies, Hindus (who accept Christ as one of their ascended masters), New Age 'Christian' groups, Muslims (who accept him as a prophet), Unitarians...indeed, almost anybody. Frankly, I believe such a designation is a traversty, because the first Christians were called so because they followed the teachings of Christ to the letter.
- 1. A person who claims to be a follower of Christ but does not necessarily believe in the actual Biblical teachings of Jesus Christ;
- 2. A person who claims to be a follower of Christ and accepts exactly what the Bible teaches about Him.
If we accept the second definition, then we have to say that Christians are evangelical. How you refine it after that is a matter of personal conscience. As for New Covenant Christians, we believe (as Baptists, Pentecostals, and other evangelicals do) that we have the best refined doctrine.
To argue about semantics is pointless. As I read Mormon claims to be called "Christians" I see that it is just verbal fencing. They are free to define words however they want to. As for evangelical New Covenant Christians, we insist on letting the Bible make our definitions for us. Jesus Christ, the original apostles, and the early saints are, for us, the arbiters.
Yes, we believe in contemporary revelation and an open canon, but we will not disparage the Bible, which has survived the test of nearly two millennia. It is, for us, primary canon, just as the Book of Mormon is primary canon for Mormons (being, Joseph Smith taught, "the most correct book on earth"). They reject the final authority of the Bible because they say it has been "corrupted" and that "many plain and precious truths" have been taken away by corrupt priests (Book of Mormon). Scholarship proves them wrong. The Bible is the best attested ancient document on the planet, with ten times as many manuscripts as all the other ancient texts put together. What differences there are are minor and insignificant. Yet the Book of Mormon has been changed numerous times and has no corrobatroty manuscripts or "plates" -- plates, many believe, never existed except in the mind of Joseph Smith.
The Bible is good enough. As a Church which has brought forth nearly ten times as much revelation as the Mormon Church, and on a more or less continuous basis, I think we have a right to comment in this arena. Yet we maintain that a man or woman can come to Christ and be saved with just the Bible. And that the Bible is absoluteky trustworthy.
Yes, priests have corrupted it, and all our modern Bible versions are based on these corrupted Catholic manuscripts created in the occultic Alexandrian School, but what Mormons don't tell you is that the original has been preserved in the Byzantine or Majority text. Yes, the Bible has been altered, but the original still exists. We don't need any more scriptures to fill in imaginary "missing gaps", as the Mormons have done with their Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. That scriptures exist to amplify and expand we most certainly believe in, and we have brought forth such scriptures. If you would like to see them, see The Olive Branch, otherwise known as the New Comandments & Covenants. You will not be disappointed, whether as a Mormon seeking for pure spiritual waters, or an evangelical seeking to go deeper into Christ.
This is, then, our invitation. And may Yahweh-Elohim, the one and only true God, and His Son, Yahshua haMashiach (Jesus Christ), the everlasting Son of God, who was God in the beginning, born of a Virgin Mary, and crucified to be our only Saviour, bless and keep you as you search for more truth. Amen.
This page was created on 6 October 1998
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