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The Million Dollar Question: Is Mormonism Christian?

On April 25, 2014, political commentator Glenn Beck spoke at Liberty University’s convocation and explained,

I share your faith. I am from a different denomination, and a denomination quite honestly that I’m sure can make many people at Liberty feel uncomfortable. I am a Mormon, but I share your faith in the atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ.

Is Mormonism just another Christian denomination? In their 2013 book Answering Mormons’ Questions: Ready Responses for Inquiring Latter-day Saints, Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson spent their first chapter trying to answer that question. Here is the first half of this chapter taken explaining their rationale as to why Mormonism is not the same as the historic and biblical faith.

When dialoguing with Mormons, it is not uncommon to hear them say, “We’re Christians too.” Such an attitude was readily apparent in a 2007 general conference talk given by Seventy Gary J. Coleman. He told the story of fourteen-year-old Cortnee, the daughter of an LDS mission president, who was confused when her high school classmates questioned her Christianity. She went home and asked her mother, “Mom, are we Christians?” Coleman answered,

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. ( “Mom, Are We Christians?” Ensign, May 2007, 94.)

Many Latter-day Saints today are easily offended when their claim to Christianity is challenged. Perhaps they think their character or conduct is being judged. While there are many noble, moral Latter-day Saints who are striving to live exemplary lives, more than just minor disagreements exist between Mormonism and Christianity. The very idea that LDS Church founder Joseph Smith (1805–1844) claimed he was told by God the Father and Jesus in the First Vision account that all the churches were “wrong” should show those outside the LDS Church that Mormonism does not view itself as just another Christian denomination. (Joseph Smith—History 1:19) This vision, President David O. McKay (1873–1970) wrote, showed “that no creed in Christendom had the true plan of salvation.”(Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay, 93.)

According to Mormon teaching, the period of the “great apostasy” that took place after the death of the apostles “lasted well over a millennium. During this period, man-made creeds and practices were substituted for the plan of salvation that Jesus had taught.”(Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual: Religion 430–431, 59.5) In an October 2010 general conference talk, Apostle Neil Anderson said,

Some ask, “Aren’t there many of other faiths who love Christ?” Of course there are! However, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, having a witness of His reality not only from the Bible but also from the Book of Mormon; knowing His priesthood has been restored to the earth; having made sacred covenantsto follow Him and received the gift of the Holy Ghost; having been endowed with power in His holy temple; and being part of preparing for His glorious return to the earth, we cannot compare what we are to be with those who have not yet received these truths. (Neil Anderson, “Be Thou an Example to the Believers,” Ensign, November 2010, 41.)

A church manual written specifically to instruct Mormon missionaries defines the differences between Mormonism and Christianity in a section describing the gift of the Holy Ghost:

“The priesthood authority needed to perform this ordinance, which was lost centuries ago through apostasy, was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Only through membership inthe Church can one receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. This authority makes the Church different from any other religion in the world. By the Lord’s own declaration, it is ‘the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth’ (D&C 1:30).”(Preach My Gospel, 65.)

Saying that his church “accepts many of the same biblical doctrines as other Christian churches,” apologist Gilbert Scharffs explained in a book used by Mormon missionaries that

“the LDS Church also believes in numerous biblical concepts changed or forgotten by many Christian denominations, which could arguably make the LDS Church more Christian than other Christians.” (Scharffs, The Missionary’s Little Book of Answers, 10.)

Within Christian thought, there is room for differences of opinions on peripheral issues. However, when it comes to the fundamentals of the Christian faith, there is no room for compromise. Words have meaning, and thus the word Christian is an important title held near and dear by many followers of the biblical Jesus. Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield (1851–1921) declared,

“People who set upon calling unchristian things Christian are simply washing all meaning out of the name. If everything that is called Christianity in these days is Christianity, then there is no such thing as Christianity. A name applied indiscriminately to everything, designates nothing.” (Warfield)

Brigham Young University professor Daniel Peterson said it well when he wrote,

“Cherry-picking similarities while failing to mention major differences is a powerful way to misrepresent and mislead.” (“Focus on Similarities Can Prove Misleading,” Mormon Times, November 6, 2011, 8)

With that in mind, let’s consider the following quotes from LDS leaders.

Regarding God . . .

 President Brigham Young (1801–1877): “The doctrine that God was once a man and has progressed to become a God is unique to this Church.”(Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 34)

Charles W. Penrose (1832–1925), a member of the First Presidency: “The God whom the ‘Christians’ worship is a being of their own creation—if, indeed, there can be such a being as they describe him to be; they have formed certain notions concerning deity, and then they have formulated those notions into articles of faith or religion.” (Journal of Discourses 23:343-44)

Seventy B. H. Roberts (1857–1933): “We offend again in our doctrine thatmen are of the same race with the divine personages we call Gods. Great stress is laid upon the idea that we believe that ‘as man is, God once was, and as God now is, man may become.’ The world usually shouts ‘blasphemy’ and ‘sacrilege’ at one when he talks of such a possibility.” (Defense of the Faith and the Saints, 2:570)

Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland: “So any criticism that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not hold the contemporary Christian view of God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost is not a comment about our commitment to Christ but rather a recognition (accurate, I might add) that our view of the Godhead breaks with post-New Testament Christian history and returns to the doctrine taught by Jesus Himself.” (“The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent,” Ensign, November 2007, 40)

Regarding Jesus . . .

Apostle Orson Hyde (1805–1878): “I discover that some of the Eastern papers represent me as a great blasphemer, because I said, in my lecture on Marriage, at our last Conference, that Jesus Christ was married at Cana of Galilee, that Mary, Martha, and others were his wives, and that he begat children.”(Journal of Discourses 2:210)

Seventy Bernard P. Brockbank (1909–2000): “It is true that many of the Christian churches worship a different Jesus Christ than is worshipped by the Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (“The Living Christ,” Ensign, May 1977, 26)

President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008): “As a church we have critics, many of them. They say we do not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity. There is some substance to what they say.” (“We Look to Christ,” Ensign, May 2002, 90)

Regarding salvation . . .

Apostle James Talmage (1862–1933): “Yet in spite of the plain word of God, dogmas of men have been promulgated to the effect that by faith alone may salvation be attained, and that a wordy profession of belief shall open the doors of heaven to the sinner.” (The Articles of Faith, 98)

Seventy LeGrand Richards (1886–1983): “One erroneous teaching of many Christian churches is: By faith alone we are saved. This false doctrine would relieve man from the responsibility of his acts other than to confess a belief in God, and would teach man that no matter how great the sin, a confession would bring him complete forgiveness and salvation.”(A Wonderous Work and a Wonder, 24)

Apostle Bruce R. McConkie (1915–1985): “Certain saved-by-grace-alone fanatics flatter their followers into believing they can be saved through no act other than confessing Christ with their lips.” (Mormon Doctrine, 287)

President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985): “One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation.”(The Miracle of Forgiveness, 206. Also see Book of Mormon Student Manual Religion 121 and 122, 36)

Regarding the Bible . . .

Joseph Smith: “There are many things in the Bible which do not, as they now stand, accord with the revelations of the Holy Ghost to me.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 310. See also History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5:245)

The First Presidency: “The Bible, as it has been transmitted over the centuries, has suffered the loss of many plain and precious parts.” (“Letter Reaffirms Use of King James Version of Bible,” Church News, June 20, 1992, 3)

Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland: “Some Christians, in large measure  their genuine love for the Bible, have declared that there can be no more authorized scripture beyond the Bible. In thus pronouncing the canon of revelation closed, our friends in some other faiths shut the door on divine expression that we in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hold dear: the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the ongoing guidance received by God’s anointed prophets and apostles. Imputing no ill will to those who take such a position, nevertheless we respectfully but resolutely reject such an unscriptural characterization of true Christianity.” (“My Words…Never Cease,” Ensign, May 2008, 91)

Regarding Christianity . . .

Apostle Bruce R. McConkie: “Modern Christians, as part of their various creeds and doctrines, have inherited many myths, legends, and traditions from their ancestors—all of which views they falsely assume are part of true religion. . . . Indeed, it would be difficult to assemble a greater number of myths into one philosophical system than are now found in the philosophies of modern Christendom.” (Mormon Doctrine, 525)

The LDS Newsroom: “The primary purpose of temple work is to ‘seal’ or unite families together, with the expectation that those relationships continue beyond death. The same temple rites can be performed for those who have died. There is no counterpart to temple practices in other Christian churches.”

Apostle Dallin H. Oaks: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has many beliefs in common with other Christian churches. But we have differences, and those differences explain why we send missionaries to other Christians.” (“Apostasy and Restoration,” Ensign, May 1995, 84)

For a closer look at the gospel topics essay on this issue, see here.


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