Posted October 7, 2021
Note: The following was originally printed in the July/August 2021 edition of the Mormonism Researched, a bimonthly periodical of MRM that is free upon request. To request a free subscription to Mormonism Researched, please visit here.
Challenging the “Christianity” of Latter-day Saints is often met with a quick rebuttal or perhaps just outright distain. The reason for this is that, from its earliest days, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have insisted that their church is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” with which God is pleased (Doctrine and Covenants 1:30).
Apostle Orson Pratt, once noted, “The sooner the present generation lose all reverence and respect for modern ‘Christianity’ with all its powerless forms and solemn mockeries, the sooner they will be prepared to receive the kingdom of God” (Key to the Science of Theology 1978 edition, 68). Tenth LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith claimed,
“However, true Christianity, so far as the latter days are concerned, is very young, less than one hundred years of age, for it has only been since the year 1830 that the Church of Jesus Christ has been organized in the earth, and the gospel restored, containing the gifts and the blessings and the graces that existed in the Church in primitive days, and that Church with its doctrines of the gospel of Christ, shall grow” (Conference Reports, April 1924, 41).
These are but two of a myriad of statements that challenge the claims of professing Christians outside of the LDS Church. Both citations elicit the false notion that what Mormons are taught to believe and practice was a part of first century Christianity. History, however, does not support this conclusion.
Over the years, Latter-day Saints have come up with many clever statements and analogies that they think support their title of Christian. A common one printed in the online Latter-day Saint Magazine (latterdaysaintmag.com) ran with the title “https://latterdaysaintmag.com/are-baptists-christians-a-case-for-latter-day-christianity/.” The piece was written by Robert Starling, who starts off by telling the story of a “well-known pastor of a Baptist mega-church in a major Southern city.” Starling said this pastor “made a statement on a national television news show that really riled me up. He said in front of millions of viewers that ‘Mormonism is a cult’ and ‘not a part of orthodox Christianity.’”
There is a lot of irony in Starling’s outrage, especially since LDS leaders have often been less than cordial when describing what I and millions of other Christians worldwide believe and hold dear. Consider the following:
- Brigham Young, the second LDS president, said, “Should you ask why we differ from other Christians, as they are called, it is simply because they are not Christians as the New Testament defines Christianity” (July 8, 1863, Journal of Discourses 10:230).
- Brigham’s successor, John Taylor, stated, “What does the Christian world know about God? Nothing; yet these very men assume the right and power to tell others what they shall not believe in. Why so far as the things of God are concerned, they are the veriest of fools; they know neither God nor the things of God” (May 6, 1870, Journal of Discourses 13:225).
- George Q. Cannon, a man who served as a First Counselor in the First Presidency under Presidents Young, Taylor, Woodruff, and Snow, said, “I do not wish to say anything in relation to other forms of religion; I do not know that it is necessary that I should do so; but no thinking man can admit that Christianity so-called—I call it a false Christianity, untrue to its name—satisfies the wants of humanity at the present time” (July 15, 1883, Journal of Discourses 24:185).
Starling’s arguments, though I’m sure are sincere, miss the point. I don’t think any well-grounded Christian would assume all Baptists are Christian any more than they would defend the notion that all professing evangelicals are Christian. What makes a Christian is not a denomination or a title.
When I am asked by Latter-day Saints the hot-button question about whether Mormons are Christian, I refuse to be pigeon holed into giving what I think are essential doctrines a Christian must hold (though I do have such a list). Instead, I respond to such a query by asking this clarification question: “It depends on the Mormon. Is the Mormon you have in mind forgiven?”
In the great majority of cases, not even those asking me the question know if they are forgiven—yet, forgiveness is what defines a Christian. Why would I assume any Mormon is a Christian if they don’t know if they are forgiven?
The problem for Latter-day Saints is they can only own such an assurance if they have repented of all sins (never to repeat them again) while keeping all of the commandments. When they recognize the futility of such a plan, the door is wide open to introduce the biblical doctrine of grace.