By Eric Johnson
Over the past few decades, Latter-day Saints have been quick to maintain that they should be considered “Christians” just like their Christian friends. This idea is typified in a general conference talk by Seventy Gary Coleman who described how he responded to 14-year-old Cortnee, the daughter of an LDS mission president, after her friend told her she was not a Christian:
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you are a Christian, and I am too. I am a devout Christian who is exceedingly fortunate to have greater knowledge of the true “doctrine of Christ” since my conversion to the restored Church. These truths define this Church as having the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I now understand the true nature of the Godhead, I have access to additional scripture and revelation, and I can partake of the blessings of priesthood authority. Yes, Cortnee, we are Christians (Ensign, May 2007, p. 94).
Notice the claim that Mormonism provides a “greater knowledge of the true ‘doctrine of Christ’” because it is “the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” This, he says, has given him a true understanding of God’s nature with added scriptures and a restored priesthood. None of this could have been possible unless there was the Great Apostasy. If Mormonism is the “fullness of the gospel,” then by definition all other churches are wrong.
Talking to gospel doctrine teachers, a church manual explains what the “Great Apostasy” is:
Explain that after Jesus Christ was crucified, His Apostles presided over the Church. But soon persecution, divisions, and apostasy increased. Within a few decades, there was a falling away from the Church, as the Apostles had prophesied (Acts 20:28-30; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3; 2 Timothy 4:3-4). This falling away is known as the Great Apostasy (Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, 1999, pp. 11-12).
Another church manual states,
One by one, the Apostles were killed or otherwise taken from the earth. Because of wickedness and apostasy, the apostolic authority and priesthood keys were also taken from the earth. The organization that Jesus Christ had established no longer existed, and confusion resulted. More and more error crept into Church doctrine, and soon the dissolution of the Church was complete. The period of time when the true Church no longer existed on earth is called the Great Apostasy. Soon pagan beliefs dominated the thinking of those called Christians (Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 92).
If a Great Apostasy took place, then The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint may very well be the one and only true church on earth. If it is, then Mormons should be considered the only true Christians; this would mean that anyone belonging to Evangelical Christianity would be in error. If this is the case, then Mormons should reserve the word “Christian” for themselves, as those not belonging to the LDS Church are not true Christians.
However, if the Great Apostasy did not take place, then The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is false and it should be pointed out as being wrong. Only those who follow God’s Word should be considered true Christians, and anyone who belongs to the LDS Church should be considered in error. If this is the case, then Mormons are not true Christians.
To call both Mormons and Evangelicals are “Christian,” then, is a disservice to both parties. If you are a Latter-day Saint and want Evangelical Christians to consider you to be Christian, it starts by rejecting the Great Apostasy. Let’s consider the 10 claims of the Great Apostasy.
1. The apostasy means that all the Christian churches are wrong
According to the Pearl of Great Price in the Standard Works, Joseph Smith—the founder of the LDS Church—claimed that God the Father and Jesus visited him in the “sacred grove” in an event called the “First Vision.” Reporting in Joseph Smith-History 1:18, he asked which church was true. He claimed in verse 19:
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
Referencing this verse, a popular LDS Church manual states,
The Savior told him not to join any church because the true Church was not on the earth. He also said that the creeds of present churches were “an abomination in his sight” (Joseph Smith— History 1:19; see also verses 7–18, 20) (Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 96).
Thirteenth President Ezra Taft Benson taught,
God the Son told Joseph Smith not to join any of the churches. Joseph was to learn that the Lord’s true church was not on the earth; that living prophets of God, who were the foundation of the church, had not walked the earth for centuries; and that with their deaths, the rock of revelation on which the church was built ceased; and so there was no new scripture (“Listen to a Prophet’s Voice,” Ensign, January 1973, p. 58).
- If you are a Latter-day Saint, do you believe Christian churches are wrong as Smith said Jesus supposedly told him and as President Benson taught? If you do, then do you agree that you do not believe that Evangelical Christians are “Christian” just like you because Christians believe that true Christianity has lasted for 2,000 years?
2. The apostasy caused the loss of the true Church
Consider the following three quotations from Joseph Fielding Smith, the 10th president of the LDS Church:
We believe that when he was on earth in his ministry, our Savior, Jesus Christ, established his Church upon eternal principles, fundamental to the salvation of mankind. We believe that following the death of the ancient apostles, these eternal principles were corrupted and became mixed with pagan philosophy. We believe that the essential ordinances of the gospel were changed and modified by man’s will and not by divine instruction . . . The church had become so corrupted and changed that it became necessary for the opening of the heavens, the coming of heavenly messengers, and a restoration of the primitive faith and divine authority. [DS 1:274.] (Selections from Doctrines of Salvation, p. 311. Ellipsis in original).
Religious denominations relied entirely on the dead letter of the Bible for their authority. They closed the heavens against themselves, and their interpretations of scripture without divine guidance led them into division, subdivision, and multiplication of churches, each going its own way blindly and in confusion. The power of the priesthood was lost and the true Church of Jesus Christ ceased to exist on the earth. There had been no prophet, no revelation, or divine instruction from the time of the apostles of old until the Lord again opened the heavens and sent holy messengers to restore that which had been taken away (Answers to Gospel Questions, 1:97).
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the Lord has admonished us to be “ready always to give an answer to every man, for our faith in the restored gospel.” This we owe to the inhabitants of this mortal world. For hundreds of years, following the universal apostasy, the inhabitants of the earth walked in spiritual darkness. They became divided and sub-divided. Satan had obtained such power over their thinking that the fundamental principles of the gospel ceased to exist among them” (Answers to Gospel Questions 5:xi).
- If you are a Latter-day Saint, do you believe with President Smith that the apostasy caused the loss of the true Christian church? If you do, then do you agree that you do not believe that Evangelical Christians are “Christian” just like you because Christians believe God will never leave nor forsake His church (Heb. 13:5)?
3. The apostasy caused the biblical Gospel to be lost
Twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball stated,
This is not a continuous church, nor is it one that has been reformed or redeemed. It has been restored after it was lost. It was lost – the gospel with its powers and blessings – Sometime after the Savior’s crucifixion and the loss of his apostles. The laws were changed, the ordinances were changed, and the everlasting covenant was broken that the Lord Jesus Christ gave to his people in those days. There was a long period of centuries when the gospel was not available to people on this earth, because it had been changed (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 423).
- If you are a Latter-day Saint, do you believe with President Kimball that the apostasy caused the loss of the true Christian Gospel? If you do, then do you agree that you do not believe that Evangelical Christians are “Christian” just like you because Christians believe the biblical Gospel was never lost?
4. Due to the apostasy, Christian churches belong to the Devil
1 Nephi 14:10 in the Book of Mormon says,
And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the bother is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.
Commenting on this verse, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie explained:
Elder Bruce R. McConkie defined the church of the devil in the following way: “The church of the devil is the world; it is all the carnality and evil to which fallen man is heir; it is every unholy and wicked practice; it is every false religion, every supposed system of salvation which does not actually save and exalt man in the highest heaven of the celestial world. It is every church except the true church, whether parading under a Christian or a pagan banner. . . .” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:551) (Book of Mormon Student Manual Religion 121 and 122, p. 14).
- If you are a Latter-day Saint, do you believe with Apostle McConkie that Christian churches belong to the Devil? If you do, then do you agree that you do not believe that Evangelical Christians are “Christian” just like you because Christians believe they do not belong to the Devil? (First Nephi 14:10 and the way it is interpreted is pretty offensive.)
5. The apostasy caused the priesthood (and all of God’s authority) to be lost
Apostle James E. Talmage explained,
We affirm that with the passing of the apostolic period the Church drifted into a condition of apostasy, whereby succession in the Holy Priesthood was broken; and that the Church as an earthly organization operating under Divine direction and having authority to officiate in spiritual ordinances ceased to exist among men (The Vitality of Mormonism, pp. 109-110).
In a 2021 article, Dallin H. Oaks, the first counselor in the First Presidency, claimed that “the authority has been restored and now exists only in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Liahona, “Authority, Ordinances, & Preparation,” August 2021, 8, italics mine).
- If you are a Latter-day Saint, do you believe with Apostle Talmage that Christian churches do not have access to the “Holy Priesthood”? Do you agree with Apostle Oaks who says that authority is only found in the LDS Church? If you do, then do you agree that you do not believe that Evangelical Christians are “Christian” just like you because Christians believe all Christians hold God’s priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9)?
6. The apostasy corrupted the doctrine of God
Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the First Presidency, told a general conference audience in April 1995:
In contrast, many Christians reject the idea of a tangible, personal God and a Godhead of three separate beings. They believe that God is a spirit and that the Godhead is only one God. In our view, these concepts are evidence of the falling away we call the Great Apostasy (“Apostasy and Restoration,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1995, p. 84).
Meanwhile, Quentin L. Cook wrote,
“Among the first principles lost in the Apostasy was an understanding of God the Father” (“The Doctrine of the Father,” Ensign, February 2012, p. 33).
- If you are a Latter-day Saint, do you believe with Dallin Oaks that Christian churches have corrupted the idea of God? If you do, then do you agree that you do not believe that Evangelical Christians are “Christian” just like you because Christians believe that God is spirit, not a man with flesh and bones (John 4:24)?
7. The apostasy meant that corrupt people changed the Bible and created false doctrinal creeds
A church manual read by missionaries minces no words when it says,
Even before the death of the Apostles, many conflicts concerning doctrine arose. The Roman Empire, which at first had persecuted the Christians, later adopted Christianity. Important religious questions were settled by councils. The simple doctrines and ordinances taught by the Savior were debated and changed to conform to worldly philosophies (see Isaiah 24:5). They physically changed the scriptures, removing plain and precious doctrines from them (1 Nephi 13:26–40). They created creeds, or statements of belief, based on false and changed doctrine (see Joseph Smith—History 1:19). Because of pride, some aspired to positions of influence (see 3 John 1:9–10). People accepted these false ideas and gave honor to false teachers who taught pleasing doctrines rather than divine truth (see 2 Timothy 4:3–4) (Preach My Gospel, 2004, p. 36).
- If you are a Latter-day Saint, do you believe that false teachers corrupted the Bible and created heretical creeds? If you do, then do you agree that you do not believe that Evangelical Christians are “Christian” just like you because Christians believe the Bible is authoritative and true as well as Bible-based creeds?
8. The apostasy means the Protestant churches are not authorized by God
Charles W. Nibley, a member of the First Presidency, taught at the October 1926 general conference,
Here is divine authority. Do any of our friends or neighbors make such a claim? We know the claim of the Catholic church, and all we say in response is that ‘By their fruits ye shall know them.’ These were the words of our Savior, and that is enough on that score. But our Protestant friends do not even have that much of a claim. They have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof. And because they do not have the authority themselves they think no one else has (Conference Reports, October 1926, p. 24).
- If you are a Latter-day Saint, do you believe with that Protestant churches are not authorized by God? If you do, then do you agree that you do not believe that Evangelical Christians are “Christian” just like you?
9. Because of the apostasy, the Gospel needed to be restored
A church manual states:
The Savior told him not to join any church because the true Church was not on the earth. He also said that the creeds of present churches were ‘an abomination in his sight’ (Joseph Smith— History 1:19; see also verses 7–18, 20) (Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 96).
Another manual adds:
The fullness of the gospel has been restored, and the true Church of Jesus Christ is on the earth again. No other organization can compare to it. It is not the result of a reformation, with well-meaning men and women doing all in their power to bring about change. It is a restoration of the Church established by Jesus Christ. It is the work of Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you can receive blessings that were absent from the earth for almost 2,000 years (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, p. 136).
- If you are a Latter-day Saint, do you believe with these manuals that the apostasy required the gospel to be “restored”? If you do, then do you agree that you do not believe that Evangelical Christians are “Christian” just like you because Christians believe the Gospel was never lost?
10. The LDS Church is now the New Testament Church
Responding to criticism given by Christians, M. Russell Ballard, who is the senior LDS apostle, explained,
We’re not Catholic and we’re not Protestant, but we are the New Testament Church that’s been restored because we believe it was lost after the times of Christ and his apostles and was required to be restored through a prophet (M “Elder Ballard Responds to Evangelical Criticism,” Deseret News, December 6, 2007).
A church manual written for Mormon missionaries states:
Investigators must be told that a universal apostasy occurred following the death of Jesus and His Apostles. If there had been no apostasy, there would have been no need of a Restoration. As a diamond on black velvet appears more brilliant, so the restoration stands in striking contrast to the dark background of the Great Apostasy. As guided by the Spirit, teach investigators about the Great Apostasy at a level of detail appropriate to their needs and circumstance. Your purpose is to help them understand the need for the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Preach My Gospel, 2004, p. 36).
- If you are a Latter-day Saint, do you believe with with M. Russell Ballard that the LDS Church is the same as the New Testament church? If you do, then do you agree that you do not believe that Evangelical Christians are “Christian” just like you because Christians believe the LDS Church does not teach the same doctrines as the New Testament church?
A Mormon wrote in August 2021 to complain about this article, explaining:
I am here to tell you today that I AM a Christian, and whether you wish to accept that or not will one day be between you and the Lord to sort out. So do as you will. I also have no problem at all considering that you are Christian as well. It would be rude and judgmental of me to consider you anything less.
Of course, a Mormon is free to consider him or herself a Christian. I will not argue this. And if this person wants to consider me a “Christian”–though I think this view is inconsistent with what has been taught by LDS leaders–the person is free to accept this as true. However, no matter where the Mormon lands on this issue, it is impossible for me, as a born again Christian, to consider the Latter-day Saint a brother or sister in the Lord based on the doctrinal differences we have, all of which stem from the Great Apostasy. This event is integral to the very existence of the LDS Church. As Seventy B.H. Roberts explained:
Nothing less than a complete apostasy from the Christian religion would warrant the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (History of the Church 1:XL).
Until the Great Apostasy is denied, I as a Christian cannot accept a believer in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as “Christian.” This will always be true as long as the Great Apostasy is accepted as true.
For more on this topic, see Crash Course Mormonism: The Great Apostasy