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Mormonism and Christianity

This article discusses the relationship between Mormonism and Christianity. Mormonism was established in the early 19th century as a form of Restorationism, and practitioners consider themselves to be Christians and call themselves Latter Day Saints because they believe the Latter Day Saint movement is a restoration of the original Christian church of the New Testament. They also believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and the son of God.

However, the Latter Day Saint movement has had an uneasy relationship with orthodox Christianity. Despite Latter Day Saint professions, very many Christians consider Mormonism to be a heretical form of Christianity, or not a form of Christianity at all, because Mormons reject the doctrine of Trinity, as well as various other dogmas beginning with the Athanasian Creed (AD 300) that have become litmus tests for Christianity.

Table of contents
1 A Description of the Jesus Christ of Mormonism
2 Comparison of the Jesus Christ of Mormonism with the Jesus Christ of Various Professions of Christianity
3 Latter Day Saint Apologetic Points of View
4 Critical Points of View
5 History of Latter Day Saint Dialogue with Mainstream Christianity
6 See also
7 References
8 External Links

A Description of the Jesus Christ of Mormonism

In Mormonism, Jesus Christ is considered to be the Messiah, the Savior, and the son of God and the virgin Mary, as per the Apostles Creed. However, the Jesus portrayed by many sects of Mormonism is not identical to the Jesus portrayed by various branches of Christianity.

Most early Latter Day Saints came from a Protestant background, believing in the Jesus of the Trinity. The early public teachings of Joseph Smith, Jr contained little to contradict this view; however, Smith's public teachings regarding the nature of Christ slowly evolved during his lifetime, and became fully elaborated only late in his life. Beginning as a vague depiction of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being "one", Smith's teachings later depicted a Father and Son with physical bodies, being one together with the Holy Spirit not through "substance" but through purpose. Some Latter Day Saint sects such as the Community of Christ (which now officially endorses the doctrine of Trinity) have chosen to adopt what they believe to be Smith's earlier understandings of the nature of Christ, while most, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, teach the doctrines taught publically by Smith later in his life. See Godhead (Mormonism).

Jesus as a physical being distinct from God the Father and the Holy Spirit

The Book of Mormon, published in 1830, describes God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit as being "one", with Jesus appearing as a spirit before his birth, and as a physical being after his resurrection. The book is vague, however, as to whether Jesus was a separate being from the Father, and whether Jesus and the Father have the same "substance". Arguably, the Jesus of The Book of Mormon could be interpreted as part of a Trinity or as one "mode" of a single god. See Modalism.

The first recorded instance in which Joseph Smith, Jr taught publically the idea that Jesus Christ and God the Father were two separate beings was in 1835. That year, in the Lectures on Faith, which was published as the "doctrine" part of the Doctrine and Covenants, Smith and his church made known the idea, taught in 1834 to the School of the prophets (with the involvement of Sidney Rigdon), that the Godhead consisted of two distinct personages (Jesus and the Father), where the Holy Spirit was the shared mind between the Father and the Son. See Lectures on Faith 5:2, and "Question and Answer" section ("Q: How many personages are there in the Godhead. A. Two: the Father and the Son").

Later in Smith's life, he elaborated on the doctrine of Jesus being a separate personage from the Father. In 1843, Smith provided his most well-known description of the Godhead, where God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit were three distinct personages: "The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us." D&C 130:22. See Godhead (Mormonism).

Jesus as a Created Being

In addition to being a separate physical being, Joseph Smith, Jr elaborated doctrines of Jesus, in which he was described as a son (although the eldest son in the spirit) of God the Father.

Other Gods than Jesus and the Father

Comparison of the Jesus Christ of Mormonism with the Jesus Christ of Various Professions of Christianity

The Jesus of Mormonism Compared to the Jesus of Catholicism and Protestantism

The Jesus of Mormonism Compared to Early Christian Heresies

The Jesus of Mormonism Compared to Modern Nontrinitarian Sects

Latter Day Saint Apologetic Points of View

Reasons that Latter Day Saints consider themselves to be Christian

Latter Day Saint movement claims that apostolic succession was broken during the Great Apostasy, or falling away from the teachings of Jesus Christ and later restored in America. The Saints maintain that God the Father and his son Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph Smith, Jr near Palmyra, New York in 1820. They believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet whose task was to restore the Church of Christ and correct doctrines and practices to the Earth.

Latter Day Saints profess a belief in the New Testament, which explains that Jesus:

Although there are some differences in Mormon beliefs in the traditional Trinity as compared to their belief in what is commonly referred by Latter Day Saints as the Godhead, the doctrinal section of Christianity is a fairly accurate representation of Latter Day Saint beliefs that coincide with mainstream Christianity.

Latter Day Saints believe that these ideas are the core beliefs of Christianity, and thus they profess that they are Christians. (See Nicene creed for a common statement of Christian faith).

How Mormons view differences

Latter Day Saints as a whole do not identify themselves as separate from mainstream Christianity, however they do recognize some key differences. Typically Latter Day Saints believe that most traditional Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant adherents have much truth, and strong faith in Christ, which is essential for their salvation. They also believe that most of these people will have the opportunity to accept the full gospel of Jesus Christ prior to the "final judgement," and that many (if not most) that truly have faith in Christ will be "saved" or possibly even exalted.

The biggest difference between mainstream Christianity and Mormonism that Mormons will typically say are three. These include:

Other Mormons will include the Gift of the Holy Ghost (as opposed to the manifestations of the Holy Ghost), Church organization, an open canon, and Temples (which includes Eternal Marriage).

Mormons typically believe that differences in the Trinity and the Mormon view of the Godhead are relatively minor and can be supported by biblical scripture, ante-Nicean tradition, similar beliefs in some protestant churches and modern revelation.

Book Summary: Are Mormons Christians?, by Stephen E. Robinson

In his book, Are Mormons Christians?, Stephen E. Robinson, an LDS scholar, addresses the issue of excluding Latter-day Saints as Christians by definition. Some critics deny that Latter-day Saints are Christians by using the term 'Christian' in a (usually implicit) historical, traditional, canonical, doctrinal or sectarian sense that specifically excludes Latter-day Saints. However, using 'Christian' in such a way is merely a way of saying that it is only one particular history, tradition, canon, doctrine or sect that is justified when such justifications are debatable; in some uses such specialized definitions could fairly exclude the primitive church and Jesus Christ himself. Robinson also observes that detractors sometimes exclude the Latter-day Saints by contrasting a biased definition of Christian with a misrepresentation of Mormon doctrines, and also exclude by labeling the Church with ad hominem tags like cult. The exclusion phenomena which Robinson observes may be seen between relatively antagonist sects (or even between sects of other religions) past and present. Robinson's contribution is unique in presenting how the exclusion phenomena is applied to Latter-day Saints in particular (with an acknowledgement that some Latter-day Saints have also excluded other sects in a similar manner) and in presenting Christian history, tradition, canon, doctrine, etc. that supports a definition that is inclusive of Mormonism.

Critical Points of View

Mormonism differs from traditional Christianity in the following ways:

The following items do not coincide with most Calvinistic protestant sect doctrines:

Another doctrinal difference concerning the practice of baptism for the dead, practiced by some Mormons, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) demonstrates their belief that non-Latter Day Saints do not have the Priesthood authority to act in the name of God, and that non-Latter Day Saint baptisms (or any other Christian ordinance) are not legitimate. In Mormonism, baptism is considered to be a prerequisite to exaltation comparable to salvation or theosis in other Christian religions. The LDS Church conducts baptisms and other ordinances for everyone (post-humously if not done while the person is living) who has not been baptized by a LDS-Priesthood-authority. Many Christians interpret this to mean that LDS Church does not consider them truly Christian, as baptism has always been a rite of initiation or entrance into Christianity. By post-humously baptizing Catholics, Orthodox, and other Christians in the same way that they post-humously baptize Jews, Muslims, and other non-Mormons, they demonstrate that all such people are equally separate from the Mormon faith and need to be given the chance to post-humously embrace it or become members of it, so that they can enter the Kingdom of God.

Most other Christian churches, the Catholic, Orthodox, and many Protestant, do not recognise Mormons as even heretics, because of the massive belief difference.

Most Christians hold that the tremendous doctrinal differences between Mormonism and mainstream Christianity are signifigant enough to define Mormon teachings as non-Christian. Mormons believe these differences are due to corruption and apostasy in the early Christian era, specifically abandonment of revelation in favor of counsels of men, including rejection of the Trinity in favor of a Godhead containing three separate individuals. On the other hand, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox in particular insist that the teachings of the church in those centuries were consistent with what the apostles taught, which the apostles learned from Christ.

History of Latter Day Saint Dialogue with Mainstream Christianity

Early Latter Day Saint Antagonism Toward Christianity

Early leaders and members of the Latter Day Saint movement at times voiced views concerning "the Christian world" which could be considered antagonistic. This is understandable in light of the sometimes violent conflicts that early Mormons had with those professing to be Christians.

The Church's founder and first prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr, at times criticized what he saw as important flaws in Christianity. He once said,

"we may look at the Christian world and see the apostasy there has been from the apostolic platform; and who can look at this and not exclaim, in the language of Isaiah, 'The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinances, and broken the everlasting covenant?'" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg 15).

In another instance, Smith said,
"The teachers of the day say that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, and they are all in one body and one God. Jesus prayed that those that the Father had given him out of the world might be made one in them, as they were one [one in spirit, in mind, in purpose]. If I were to testify that the Christian world were wrong on this point, my testimony would be true" (Ibid, pg 311).

As for Catholicism and Protestantism, Smith had these words:
"Here is a principle of logic...I will illustrate by an old apple tree. Here jumps off a branch and says, I am the true tree, and you are corrupt. If the whole tree is corrupt, are not its branches corrupt? If the Catholic religion is a false religion, how can any true religion come out of it?" (Ibid, pg 375).

These grievances seem to be largely doctrinal in nature. Smith and the Latter Day Saints weren't often critical of other faiths. No doubt remembering the injustices the Latter Day Saints suffered because of religious intolerance, Joseph Smith also said,
"I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves" (Ibid, pg 313).

Mormonism and Christian Ecumenism

In Joseph Smith's Wentworth Letter, he listed the following as the 11th Article of Faith:
"We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may" (11th Articles of Faith).

Ecumenical Efforts by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Brigham Young, the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the majority of Mormons after Smith's death, also sounded a conciliatory tone, saying,
"Some who call themselves Christians are very tenacious with regard to the Universalians, yet the latter possess many excellent ideas and good truths. Have the Catholics? Yes, a great many very excellent truths. Have the Protestants? Yes, from first to last. Has the infidel? Yes, he has a good deal of truth; and truth is all over the earth." (Discourses of Brigham Young, pg 10).

In the last several decades, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been making a sustained effort to demonstrate that Latter-day Saints' beliefs are associated with Christianity. These efforts have included participation in ecumenical endeavors, adding the subtitle "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" to The Book of Mormon, and recently re-branding of the church's official logo to place more emphasis on the phrase "The Church of Jesus Christ."

Ecumenical Efforts by the Community of Christ

More so than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Community of Christ has made dramatic efforts to reconcile its doctrines with mainstream Christianity, and to appear more orthodox to Christians.

See also


External Links