The “Are Mormons Christian” Conundrum
The question of whether members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are Christian has been debated since the Church was established in 1830. Many members of the Mormon Church, including prominent leaders, have fought very hard to assure the rest of the Christian world that we are indeed Christians. They hope that this commonality between our fellow religious brethren would breed a plank of strength and mutual respect, one with another.
The ironic thing is, we assign our own definitions to words and then adjudicate others based on our previous assumption. We see this in politics, where if you fail to line up with consensus on one issue, you are branded a traitor. Sports are no different, where a contrary fandom is often termed somehow of lesser quality.
You especially see this form of purity test in religion — often ending in violence. Strife within Islam comes from two competing groups, Shi’a and Sunni, who refuse to recognize one another as true Muslims. It’s no different in the fight between the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. In general, all divisions among the religious are simply a form of purity test: you or your group simply do not fit the mold I believe to be true.
Honestly, the whole “Mormons are Christians! They really are!” campaign has always rubbed me the wrong way. When God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith, they did so because there had been an apostasy. The complete Gospel of Jesus Christ was not on the earth. The Father and the Son were ushering in the final dispensation and providing the people of the earth a chance to accept the true doctrine of salvation.
So, why would we, as the Church and Kingdom of God restored to the earth, want to be counted with those religious organizations that The Lord had just instructed young Joseph NOT to join? Sure, greater acceptance from the religious world as a whole can only help and aid the Church. It opens doors as well as allows us to learn and experience faith from many different angles. It can also be a double-edged sword — where the Church is simply lumped with every other Christian denomination. We are different and should not be afraid to claim this truth.
Whether I am a Christian or not depends on your definition of what being a Christian is.
Does being a Christian entail believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only name under heaven whereby a man can be saved? If your answer is yes, then I most assuredly call myself a Christian, for without Christ and His redeeming blood, we are all lost. I love Christ. I want to do what He wants. I am nothing without Him. He is my Savior, Guide, and God.
Does being a Christian mean that I subscribe to the doctrine of the Trinity? That God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost are one in substance, without form, and can fill the immensity of space and dwell in the heart of man? If your answer is yes, then I reject being defined as a Christian. God the Father and Jesus Christ are two separate and distinct beings, each with a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man. The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit, also independent in form from the Father and the Son. No greater doctrine has sprung from the Restoration than that of the character and nature of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
Does being a Christian involve believing the Bible to be the absolute and only word of God? If so, I am not a Christian. If God speaks not to man, then He lives not. The Book of Mormon is the word of God brought forth in our day to testify of His love, His Son’s mission, and of Joseph Smith’s calling as a latter-day prophet.
Does being a Christian implicate that I must follow the Savior’s teachings with an understanding that even after doing my best, it is by His grace that I return to his presence? If so, then I am a Christian. Grace is all we have. It is by grace that we are saved, for without the grace and condescending Christ to provide us with a way home, we would be lost — no matter how many works we completed.
My own definition of a Christian is pretty general and all-inclusive: Do you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior and Redeemer of the World? An affirmative answer to this will put to rest all of the other theological differences I might have with the person. Unfortunately, members of the Church are oftentimes so keen on being accepted that they refrain from asking the necessary follow-up.
So, the next time someone asks if you are a Christian, ask how they define the word. It will give you a chance to share your testimony and perhaps provide some insight about what makes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints unique. Representing the Only True and Living Church gives us authority to speak on the subject. As the prophet Nephi proclaimed: We talk of Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ…that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”