By Eric Johnson
The question of whether Mormons are Christians is an admittedly sensitive issue. It’s not one I normally bring up in a conversation with Latter-day Saints because it can too easily turn into a “Yes they are!” and “No they’re not!” back and forth dispute that can lead to frayed feelings. Mormons like to insist that since their church is called “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” with the name Jesus Christ in its title, why shouldn’t they be considered true followers of Jesus?
For the sake of space, I have included much of a Twitter feed written by Latter-day Saint Scott Adams on December 13, 2020. His words are bold-faced and I will respond in regular type. For the sake of space, some of his points were skipped, which I have indicated by an ellipsis (…) between Tweets, as each set of words in quotation marks are individual posts. Scott’s feed can be found at https://twitter.com/PTSPentax/status/1338257269851521028
“There is now, and has been since its beginning, a debate that rages about whether or not The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (nicknamed Mormonism) is Christian. I feel the need to interject on why we are.”
Scott and many other Mormons to whom I’ve talked would like to be considered “Christian,” apparently in the same way that I and millions of other Christians desire the title. The question is, Is Mormonism Christianity? Or is it a completely unique faith that, if the followers were called Christian, would tend to confuse rather than enlighten. Since I take the former position rather than the latter, I believe it harms communication to consider Mormonism “Christianity.”
Let me start by giving just a couple of citations from early leaders to show that historic Christianity has a problem that cannot be resolved with a makeover. Rather, they taught that a complete transformation (i.e., “restoration”) was necessary. For example, 2nd President Brigham Young explained,
“The people called Christians are shrouded in ignorance, and read the Scriptures with darkened understandings” (October 8, 1859, Journal of Discourses 7:333).
Third President John Taylor said,
“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).
Later, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie made his position very clear:
“Mormonism is Christianity; Christianity is Mormonism; they are one and the same, and they are not to be distinguished from each other in the minutest detail” (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 513).
For the sake of space, I won’t give dozens of other similar quotations, but I invite the reader to visit here for many other complaints by representatives of the LDS Church.
Since the beginning of the religion, LDS leaders have certainly held that their version of the Gospel was true and everyone else’s was false. Sixth President Joseph F. Smith wrote,
“…for I contend that the Latter-day Saints are the only good and true Christians, that I know anything about in the world. There are a good many people who profess to be Christians, but they are not founded on the foundation that Jesus Christ himself has laid” (November 2, 1891, [Stake conference message], Collected Discourses, 2:305. Ellipsis mine).
Notice, he said that Mormons “are the only good and true Christians.” I want this to be clear to those who are Christians. Yes, many Mormons believe that you are “Christians,” but according to their leaders, this is meant differently than what is intended to be meant by the LDS leadership. I remember back in the 1970s and 80s–and my former LDS friends will attest to this–that Mormons used to be
This all came about, according to Mormonism, because of what is called the “Great Apostasy.” According to Mormonism, Joseph Smith—as a 14-year-old boy in 1820—was kneeling in prayer in a place now called “the Sacred Grove” near his home in New York state. The official version of his story is told in Joseph Smith-History. After suffering a demonic-like attack, Smith was visited by God the Father and Jesus. He recalled what he said he was told in JSH 1:18-20:
I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.
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.”
20 He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time. . .
Describing this Great Apostasy, tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote,
“Every Latter-day Saint knows that following the death of the apostles, Paul’s prophecy was fulfilled, for there were many ‘grievous wolves’ that entered the flock, and men arose ‘speaking perverse things,’ so that the doctrines were changed and the true Church of Jesus Christ ceased to be on the earth. For this reason there had to come a restoration of the Church and a new revelation and bestowal of divine authority. The Church of Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures are, therefore, not responsible for the changed doctrines and unscientific teachings of those times, when uninspired ecclesiastics controlled the thinking of the people” (Man, His Origin and Destiny, pp. 467).
Criticizing Christians who have a “false Christ” and belong to a “false cult,” McConkie wrote:
“A false Christ is not a person. It is a false system of worship, a false church, a false cult that says: ‘Lo, here is salvation; here is the doctrine of Christ. Come and believe thus and so, and ye shall be saved.’ It is any concept or philosophy that says that redemption, salvation, sanctification, justification, and all of the promised rewards can be gained in any way except that set forth by the apostles and prophets. We hear the voice of false Christs when we hear the Athanasian Creed proclaim that ‘whosoever will be saved’ must believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are incomprehensible and uncreated, that they form a Trinity of equals, who are not three Gods but one God, and not one God but three Gods, and that unless we so believe we ‘cannot be saved,’ and ‘shall perish everlastingly.’ (Book of Common Prayer, The Church of England, pp. 68-71.)” (The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man, p. 48).
It only makes sense that if:
- There was a great apostasy from the Christianity left behind by Jesus
- God did tell Joseph Smith that the Christian churches and their pastors were wrong as well as corrupt
- Nobody was to join any of these churches
Then the conclusion is that Christianity had not had representation on the face of the earth since a time after the death of the apostles.
While many Mormons are offended if they are not considered “Christian,” it should be pointed out that Mormonism is just as exclusive as the Christians they criticize for not agreeing that Mormons are Christians. To be clear, I do not believe that there is anything wrong to claim to be correct on spiritual issues and believe those who disagree as wrong. Based on the law of non-contradiction (A cannot equal non-A), however, it is impossible for Christianity to be apostate and still be a true way to know God.
“I think it’s important to begin with defining what Christianity is. What does it really mean to be ‘Christian?’ It’s important to realize that doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone, so let me tell you what a Latter-day Saint means when we say it.”
The term “Christian” is a historical term and has a particular meaning. If an atheist claims to be a Christian, we would say that doesn’t make sense. If a Muslim says he is a Christian, this also does not compute. Even if a Jehovah’s Witness says he is a Christian, the designation remains faulty.
What’s most interesting is that those who belong to polygamous groups, including Warren Jeffs’ FLDS Church, are not accepted as being “orthodox” and outside the realm of Mormonism. BYU emeritus professor Robert Millet explains:
“Some who claim to be orthodox on the basis of following the teachings of Brother Joseph—for example, members of polygamous cults—are not in harmony with the Church’s constituted authorities and are therefore not orthodox” (“Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism: Orthodoxy, Neoorthodoxy, Tension, and Tradition,” BYU Studies, Summer 1989, p. 65).
Twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball told an October 1974 General Conference audience,
“We warn you against the so-called polygamy cults which would lead you astray. Remember the Lord brought an end to this program many decades ago through a prophet who proclaimed the revelation to the world. People are abroad who will deceive you and bring you much sorrow and remorse. Have nothing to do with those who would lead you astray. It is wrong and sinful to ignore the Lord when he speaks. He has spoken—strongly and conclusively.” Source
However, groups like the FLDS and the Kingstons do accept the Book of Mormon and other early LDS teachings while believing they are the restored church of Jesus Christ. Why do Millet and Kimball not accept them as fellow believers? Because even though there are some similarities, there are major differences as well. That makes sense.
I am not concerned what the word “Christian” means to a Latter-day Saint like Scott Adams. Instead, I want to know if the Latter-day Saint agrees with the essential teachings of the historic Christian church.
Let me give an example that hopefully will make sense to my Latter-day Saint friends. Suppose I claim to be a faithful Latter-day Saint but I reject Joseph Smith as a prophet, the Book of Mormon as ancient scripture, and the LDS temples as illegitimate places of worship. Based on the definition, should I be considered a faithful Latter-day Saint? The Mormon would certainly have a problem calling such a person a “brother” or “sister” in the faith. And I would agree. There is a meaning to the word “Latter-day Saint” and every Mormon has the right to say that my claim is invalid, no matter how much I insist I am correct in my claim.
Another illustration can be given. What would you say if I claim to have Covid-19? You ask, “How do you know?” I say, “Well, I’m feeling really tired and I have a runny nose. I also have a cough.” You respond, “Have you been tested?” My reply, “No, but there is no doubt that I have it.” It is possible that I indeed have the virus and should be quarantined. After all, I do have some of the symptoms. However, I don’t have a fever, there is no diarrhea, and I still have my smell and taste. Of course, I could get these symptoms later. Even if I get tested, there is a chance the test can be wrong. How can I know for sure?
There may be many similarities in someone’s symptoms but a misreading the signs of Covid for the common cold. When it came to being a true follower, Jesus said that it is possible to know if a person is Christian by testing their fruit (Matt. 7:15-20). He said that there are wolves dressed up in sheep’s clothing to appear to be true. John wrote that we should “try the Spirits to see if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Paul wrote that we should “test everything” (1 Thess. 5:21). When Mormonism is examined, it becomes apparent that its doctrines denies or distorts every fundamental teaching of the historic Christian church.
I also do not want to misrepresent my faith as being the same as other Christian churches. We have similarities, and I think it’s great to glory with other Christians in the similarities we do share. But, we also have some radical differences, and I want to discuss those as well.”
We have to be honest. There are many similarities between a religion like Islam and Christianity. For one, both religions teach in one God. For another, there is a general belief in the Old Testament, although many Muslims say there are errors in the manuscripts that we possess–sound familiar? And both religions have a place for Jesus Christ, believing that He is very important. Would anyone suggest, then, that Muslims are Christians? Of course not. Just like the example of the “polygamous cults” used above, if the differences between Islam and Christianity are great, the similarities don’t matter.
To showcase “similarities” between Mormonism and Christianity is not helpful in determining if both ought to be considered “Christian.” Yes, Mormons use the same terms as Christians, but in all cases, different things are meant when we use terms such as God/Godhead, Jesus, scripture, salvation by grace, heaven, hell, and baptism, among others.
Two questions follow from that, and I suppose its up to the reader to ultimately decide what the answer is: 1. Are the differences in in our church enough to say that we’re not Christian? 2. Do we have legitimate, scripturally supportable grounds to believe the way we do?
The answer is yes. Here are some of the differences referred to in my previous response:
- Mormonism’s baptism is concerned true, and no other baptism is accepted
- Mormonism’s God was once a man with flesh and bones who lived in a previous realm as He worshiped His God.
- Mormonism’s Jesus was created and is not equal to Heavenly Father
- Mormonism’s Holy Ghost/Holy Spirit is not equal to Heavenly Father
- Mormonism rejects the Christian doctrine of the Trinity
- Mormonism’s scripture extends beyond the Bible
- Mormonism’s view of salvation is that a person is saved by grace after all he can do, different from the version given in the Bible
- Mormonism’s temple work, including work for the dead, has never been practiced in biblical Christianity
The list could go on. The doctrines of Mormonism are different from the doctrines of historic Christianity.
“I want to address the second question first. What must a Christian believe to claim that title? Must they believe the Bible? Yes! The Bible is a collection of prophetic writing that testifies of Christ by the power of the Holy Ghost. It is revelation from God to man. (2 Pet 1:19-21).”
“As Latter-day Saints we believe the Bible. Despite what some people may claim, we view it as authoritative, inspired, and true. We are careful in wanting translations that preserve the original meaning, and not ones that project a modern meaning onto it. The Bible is God’s word.”
It is agreed that Mormons have the King James Version of the Bible as one of their four written scriptures. However, the eighth Article of Faith–written by Joseph Smith–says that the Bible is true only as far as it is “translated” correctly. I explained what that meant, as Joseph Smith—the author of the Articles of Faith—certainly did not mean “translated” but “transmitted.” He said,
“I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 327).
Unfortunately, though, many Latter-day Saints don’t focus their devotional attention on the Bible as much as they do the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith said,
“I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (History of the Church 4:461. See also Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 194).
“The Bible bears true witness of God and his gospel as far as it is translated correctly. Many plain and precious things have been deleted, however; and the Book of Mormon is the means, provided by divine wisdom, to pour forth the gospel word as it was given in perfection to the ancients. It has come to preserve and sustain the Bible, not to destroy or dilute its message” (The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man, p. 160).
Scott takes an unfair shot at modern translations of the Bible when he wrote that he wants “translations that preserve the original meaning, and not ones that project a modern meaning onto it.” The King James Version (KJV) is a good translation, but it must be understood that scholars have discovered additional manuscript evidence to correct some of the transmission issues. For instance, these faithful translators did not have Codex Vaticanus, Codex Alexandrinus, and Codex Sinaiticus, the three most accurate New Testament versions in the possession of scholars today. Thus, the King James Version includes the longer portion of 1 John 5:7-8, even though the earliest and most accurate manuscripts do not include these words that would appear to be an excellent prooftext for the Trinity. Those KJV translators did not have access to the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered in 1947, and dated to as early as the second century B.C. Rather than take a pot-shot at the modern translations of the Bible, I challenge Scott to do some research on textual criticism and consider the accuracy of the the transmission of the biblical text. Every Latter-day Saint should do the same.
“We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God. Does this belief disqualify us from Christianity? Before answering, please consider what the Book of Mormon teaches about Christ.”
“Can a house stand if it is divided against itself? If the Book of Mormon is inspired by the devil, would it testify on nearly every page that Christ is Lord, Savior and Redeemer and the only source we can look to for redemption? YOU must judge.”
As mentioned above, the Book of Mormon plays a bigger role in Mormonism than the Bible. The question is, what is the Book of Mormon? Is it a historical book? The evidence goes against this. Some of the problems include:
- No proof the events discussed in the Book of Mormon ever took place, including no archaeological support. It is possible to go to the Holy Land and see with your own eyes the evidence how the people, places, and events described in the Bible can be fully supported, yet Mormons even disagree if the Book of Mormon events took place in North or Central America!
- Plagiarism from other sources, including the Bible—whole biblical chapters are included, word for word, from the King James Version
- The way it was translated–one Gospel Topics essay says Joseph Smith used a seer stone that he read in his top hat and the plates were, for the most part, covered in a cloth—why were the plates even necessary?
- Its teachings are much different from what Mormonism teaches today, including:
- the idea that God has a body of flesh and bones and that He had a god before Him
- the possibility for a second chance of salvation after death
- that need for temple work
- marriage and families continuing into the eternities
“At what point in history is that rejection justified? Must a person accept the creeds of the bishops of the 3rd and 4th century to be a Christian? If so, why?”
“Are the creeds scripture? No. They do not claim to be scripture. The authors of the creeds of the Roman church did not claim prophetic or apostolic authority to add to the Christian canon. They set forth in a series of documents that emerged from councils of men…”
No Catholic or Protestant has ever stated or even insinuated that the Christian creeds should be considered on par with the Bible. This is a straw man argument. Rather, the creeds of the “3rd and 4th century” (he meant the 4th and 5th centuries if this is a reference to the important Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed) explain what the Bible teaches. For instance, the Council of Nicaea (AD 325), the Council of Constantinople (AD 381), and the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) all spent extensive time discussing the Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
“…a set of statements that would frame how scripture is to be read and interpreted. You are free to believe these creeds correctly interpret scripture, BUT, must anyone believe them to be a disciple of Christ?”
By themselves, then, creeds are powerless. What was written in these creeds is accepted universally by the Western and Eastern churches, including the Protestant churches. Unfortunately, Scott gets it backwards. He says that the creeds “frame how scripture is to be read and interpreted.” This is not true. Rather, they interpret what the original (Bible) says and is fully dependent on the proper interpretation of scripture. The way he framed it would be akin to someone saying a piece of legislation in the House of Representatives frames how the Constitution is to be read and interpreted. No, the piece of legislation does not determine what is Constitutional but rather describes what is Constitutional.
It also should be pointed out that Mormons have their own creed written by Joseph Smith titled the Articles of Faith. Different points are often cited by Latter-day Saints to describe what they believe. Or, another example is the Church Handbooks of Instructions, periodically updated by the church.
“In saying this, my purpose isn’t to incite contention. I’m always happy to explore and defend my beliefs, and I’m not claiming they should be exempt from scrutiny. But to Latter-day Saints, the fiction that is so often told about us that we do not have the same love or reverence/”
“for Christ is deeply offensive because it isn’t true. We may not agree on many points of doctrine. We don’t have to. But, anyone who wants to fairly and honestly tell what we believe should be complete in representing what we believe.”
My goal is to always accurately represent what Latter-day Saints believe is true. If this comment is directed to the show that Sean and I did on December 9th, I can’t what I said that is not an accurate portrayal of Mormonism. Please understand that I am not questioning the sincerity of any Latter-day Saint. And I don’t want to speak on behalf of Scott’s views. He’s entitled to believe whatever he wants, whether or not it agrees with Christianity or Mormonism. However, the word “Mormonism” does have a particular meaning when there is a proper interpretation of the four Standard Works as well as the teachings of the authoritative LDS leaders. I teach Christians to never tell a Mormon what he or she believes or say “Mormons’ believe.” Rather, say “this is what Mormonism teaches.” There is a difference. And if you want to believe what a Mormon believes, ask him or her.
“We have differences with Catholic and Protestant doctrine, but we don’t claim to be Catholic or Protestant. We do claim to be Christian, and for our doctrine we look to Christ, and those who are authorized to speak on His behalf.”
According to Mormonism, “those authorized to speak on His behalf” are the LDS leaders. What is taught certainly is different from the historic Christian position. While I don’t bring up the topic in conversations with Mormons, I think it is both confusing and wrong to equate Mormonism and Christianity.
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