The following was originally printed in the January-February 2013 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here.
In his October 2012 conference message titled “Being a More Christian Christian,” Mormon Apostle Robert D. Hales outlined what he believed defined a Christian. He opened his remarks with the question, “What does it mean to be a Christian?”
Below are some of the attributes he gave:
A Christian has faith in Jesus Christ, “that He is the literal Son of God.”
A Christian is baptized “by those holding His priesthood authority.”
A Christian knows that Jesus “accompanied by Heavenly Father, appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the year 1820 and restored the gospel and the organization of His original Church.”
A Christian knows “that God, our Heavenly Father has a glorified and perfected body of flesh and bone, Jesus Christ is His Only Begotten Son in the flesh.”
A Christian knows that “the Godhead is three separate and distinct beings, unified in purpose.”
After giving this list, Hale stated, “with these doctrines as the foundation of our faith, can there be any doubt or disputation that we, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are Christian?”
How convenient. Clearly Mr. Hale gives a list of requirements that he knows his church fulfills; however, in doing so, he clearly exempts from being “Christian” all those who disagree with his premise. In essence, he has given a definition of “Christian” that is only recognized by the LDS Church.
Christians have historically viewed Jesus as the Son of God, but never has Christianity assumed that this is meant to be taken that he is “literally” God’s Son. Mormonism maintains that Jesus is the literal offspring of Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother, and that this parentage is shared by all of humankind.
Joseph Smith claimed that a major loss generated by the “Great Apostasy” was any and all priesthood authority. Smith claimed that this authority to preach the gospel and administer God’s sacraments was restored to earth when he was visited by John the Baptist, and the apostles Peter, James, and John.
Only Mormons believe that Joseph Smith was visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ. This event, taught by Joseph Smith many years after it allegedly happened, was never a part early Mormon history. Smith himself failed to give a consistent account of this event and for years after Smith’s death, many different versions were circulated by Mormons leaders.
Never in Christian history have Christ’s followers maintained that God the Father has a body “of flesh and bone.” Christians and Jews alike have worshipped a God of spirit. Jesus Himself said “God is spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
The phrase “Jesus Christ is His Only Begotten Son in the flesh” is unique to Mormonism and speaks to how the Mormon Jesus became incarnate by a physical “Heavenly Father.” Hales’ language is similar to Mormon leaders of the past that speak of God physically impregnating Mary. For example, sixth President Joseph F. Smith stated,
“Now, we are told in scriptures that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God in the flesh. Well, now for the benefit of the older ones, how are children begotten? I answer just as Jesus Christ was begotten of his father. The difference between Jesus Christ and other men is this: Our fathers in the flesh are mortal men, who are subject unto death: but the Father of Jesus Christ in the flesh is the God of Heaven. …So you see Jesus is the only person who had our Heavenly Father as the father of his body” (Family Home Evening manual, 1972, pp.125,126. Ellipses mine).
Finally, never has it been part of Christian orthodoxy to believe in the existence of more than one true and living God, and never have Christians maintained that within the godhead are three separate and distinct Gods who are merely “one in purpose.”
Mormons have often objected when those outside of their church make what Mormons feel are unfair definitions of what is, and is not, a Christian, yet it seems perfectly acceptable for LDS leaders such as Hales to do so. Quite a bit can be learned from Hales’ self-serving definition of Christian. For one, it seems clear enough that only members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fully qualify to carry that name.