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Are Mormons Christians? Good question.

Latter-day Saints believe in the resurrected J...Image via Wikipedia(Btw, I tend to sound a little authoritative when I write. :) I should be clear that I don't speak for the LDS Church in any way. I am just a faithful member who has done (probably too much) thinking on the topic.)

So, last night I got a phone call from a neighbor apologizing about the fact that we wouldn't be able to come over and visit like we planned for the following day (today). They understood that the purpose of the visit was religious in nature, so the father very kindly explained that while we are welcome any time, they belong to another faith now.

No problem, IMHO. I absolutely love talking to people who changed religions, whatever direction they've gone, because it usually means that they have actually thought about what they believe as opposed to just going with the tides.

One of the things that he said, though, intrigued me. It might have been a slip of the tongue or it might reveal a little bit about his point of view. I asked him where he attended church. "South Mountain Community Church," he replied. I asked him if it was aligned with any of the mainstream Christian faiths, like Baptists or Methodists, and he said, "It's just your typical Christian church. It's actually the largest Christian church in the state of Utah."

Really? That's pretty cool. However, it seems to me that the Latter-Day Saints are the largest Christian church in the state of Utah, their headquarters being in Salt Lake City and all that.

Then I was reminded of the fact that several Christian faiths don't consider Mormons to be Christians, so it would be entirely plausible for that church to consider themselves the "largest Christian church in the state."

As a side note, I don't pay allegiance to numbers in that way like others sometimes do. The Book of Mormon is very clear that there were times of significant contraction in the Church. Sometimes, the contraction was due to lack of belief. Other times it was due to prideful membership. There is no doubt, though, that the Church shrank in size a number of times through the one millennium of history covered in the Book or Mormon. Did the shrinkage of the Church make the gospel any less true at those times? Sounds like another post is in order, so I'll move on.

As another side note, I think that terminology itself is a really interesting topic. The French have a whole department of the government for discussing such things, and all us humans are always trying to put to words the conceptions and categorizations that we feel are manifested in our own experience. One of my math tutor students once asked me why a polynomial is called a polynomial. I explained to him that poly means many and nom means name, so a polynomial is a mathematical expression with many "names" or variables. He asked me again, but why do we even need to call it a polynomial? Well, I explained, if we term something a polynomial, then we can infer a whole bunch of other things about it, including whether its continuous or discrete, whether its one-to-one, and more. He asked again, and I suddenly realized that he was asking about the term itself. Is there anything "catty" about the word "cat" itself? Anyway, the conversation goes on, and I don't have time to write it all out, but such is the kind of conversation that we could have about the importance of actually answering the "Are Mormons Christians?" question. This blog assumes that the answer is important (as opposed to conjecturing that its all just terminology anyway), but maybe someone could bring that up later on.

So, anyway, that got me wondering about the old topic of Mormons being Christians. What are the big reasons?

#1 - Theomorphic Man

This is a fun word to use in Scrabble if you ever get the chance. For example, when someone has put "morph" on the board and then a space and a "c" and you happen to have "theopoi" in your tray. Winning combination.

What "theomorphic" implies is a much more interesting conversation and is one of the pillars of antipathy that other Christian faiths direct at Latter-Day Saints for wanting to "join the club".

Theomorphic is a play on the word anthropomorphic. It isn't precisely Greek. The Greek word anthropos means "human being" and morphe means "form", so anthropomorphic means "having human form". So, theomorphic means "God-like".

The flip-side, then, is an anthropomorphic God, or, in other words, a human-like God. And while most Christian religions believe both of these at some level--Christ took on human characteristics during his mortal ministry (anthropomorphic God) and man is created in God's image (theomorphic man), they take issue with the distance that we Latter-Day Saints carry the two concepts.

As we all know, Lorenzo Snow is famous for when on his mission he quipped "Anthropomorphic God, theomorphic man." Oh, wait, that's not it. It's "as man now is, God once was, and as God now is, man may become."

Many Latter-Day Saints see this as carrying the concept of being God's children to it's logical conclusion. If we truly are God's children, then wouldn't we grow up to be like him, being parents of spiritual children just like Him? Indeed, I don't consider it sinful if my children have aspirations of being a parent (only if they act on those aspirations out of turn).

Moreover, it seems to me that "growth" is an eternal principle. (What I mean by eternal principle is that it exists in Heaven, too. For example, I believe that families exist in Heaven as well, which would mean that the principle of family is an eternal principle.) The Lord nurtures us that we might grow, and we make choices in our life that enable his succor to take effect and make us something greater than we are. Why would this not exist in Heaven as well? If it exists in Heaven, does it only exist for a certain amount of time or to a certain point of progression? If not, then what could possibly stop each one of God's children from becoming like Him except their own choices?

Moremoreover, the LDS death conquest narrative for me is "door number three." The two standard doors (afterlife and no-afterlife) leave me somewhat unsatisfied. The one means that we will all eventually die, so does anything really matter at all? The other means that even after I'm tired of living (after a 100 trillion years or so), I still have an eternity to go after that. With the framework that Joseph Smith laid out, we have actually already existed for an eternity before coming here to Earth. This makes eternal existence much easier to conceptualize. That plus Lorenzo Snow's comment give the human family a much, much, much bigger role in the eternities. How would that change your behavior if you really believed in that kind of royal heritage and potential?

Lastover, let's quickly observe the humanistic utility of such a point of view as well. If we understand that each person we meet is not only a child of God but also has the potential to become like Him, how might we treat them differently? If we judged every man to be our superior, how might respect for others return to our society?

So, it's blasphemous in many Christian religions. To some, it sounds like polytheism to turn every man into a God and paganism to turn God into a man. To others still, it just sounds plain arrogant. Most Christians that have a problem with this argue something to the effect that just like there are fundamental physical chasms between plants and humans, so it is with God and man. A plant could never be a man and a man could never be God. I wonder how much truth to this there is without the resurrection?

#2 - Multa Scriptura

Most of the Christian world holds to the tenet of 'sola scriptura' or 'closed canon'. This isn't an anti-war slogan (closed cannon. Ha). It means that the Bible is the source for all that the children of God could possibly need to get home to Heaven.

Latter-Day Saints, however, take a slightly more complicated stance. They assert, like most Christians, that the Israelites of the Old Testament were the Lord's chosen people, and that they were scattered. What Latter-Day Saints say is that the Lord continued to speak to each "branch" of these chosen people as they were scattered over the earth, including the family of Lehi who left Jerusalem as a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah. Latter-Day Saints also believe that the writings of other lost tribes may yet be found to provide more witnesses to those tribes' role in the grand plan of what Latter-Day Saints call The Restoration. One step further, Latter-Day Saints believe that when you are baptized as a Latter-Day Saint, you are "grafted in" to that "tree" or, that is, the tribes of Israel. This, logically, would mean that the Lord would restore truth through them as well.

I call this 'multa scriptura' or 'open canon'. This is not a pro-war slogan. It means that the Lord has spoken to all the tribes of Israel, including grafted ones, and when He does that, it is scripture.

Detractors say that the Bible itself is clear that nothing more is necessary. They quote scriptures like Revelation and Deuteronomy, that they say that no man should add more to that record.

What it really comes down to, though, is a matter of ownership and origin. Moses said what he said in Deuteronomy long before the New Testament was written, and I think he meant it. His intention was to establish his authority as the mouthpiece of God in the face of possible confusion or even opposition. Of course, when John said the same thing later on, the Jews probably wondered at John's authority to do such a thing as to add to Moses's words. Therein lies the key: They weren't John's words any more than they were Moses's words. They were God's words given to man. That's how John and Moses can both say at different times in history that no man can add to their words. God can add to them any time he wants.

So, why do other Christians really discredit the Book of Mormon? It's because they don't see it as coming from God. If they did, they wouldn't see it as man adding to the word of God, but instead God adding to the word of God. Now, why they don't see the Book of Mormon as from God, I'm not entirely sure. As we've seen, it's a cyclic argument to say that man can't add to God's word because those who believe the Book of Mormon believe it to be God's word just like the Bible. By association, any other yard stick that I've heard used to discredit it can be just as easily used against the Bible and we're back to square one. Separate blog post.

Which "square one" is needing modern-day revelation in order to understand whether or not the Book of Mormon really is the word of God. As cyclic as the situation may seem, the pattern that is born out of it is the need for continuing revelation from God to his children as fast as they are prepared to receive it.

Again from the practical point of view, more witnesses from God has never been more necessary. There are many who discredit the divine portions of the New Testament or the New Testament altogether. While some of those will discredit the Book of Mormon as well, there are many who will find renewed strength in their testimony of Christ by finding out that another people on the Earth also had associations with Christ, even the mouth of another witness. How would it change people's point of view who possibly feel that God has largely abandoned his children in these last days if they found out that modern scripture has been revealed and continues to be revealed to aid His children?

I like the phrase 'sola patria' (one source) over 'sola scriptura' (one scripture), but that's just me.

#3 - Priesthood

So this only upsets half of the Christian world. Alright, so it upsets all of them, but for two distinct reasons. One is related to the distaste for institutionalism that has been growing in the world at least since the Bible was first translated into English by John Wycliffe. Martin Luther, Thomas Jefferson, the Protestant movement, and the Declaration of Independence are all examples of the declining old ways of top-down thinking.

In the case of religion, a biggie is the priesthood as conceived by the Catholic church. In the midst of the Protestant movement, when the concept of priesthood authority was being decried, it is astonishing that Joseph Smith was able to get a religion off the ground where priesthood authority is so integral.

Priesthood, then, in the Latter-Day saint view, is what gives legitimacy to baptism, the ordinance that most of Christendom agrees is necessary for salvation. It is also the typical source for healings in the faith. Latter-Day Saints assert that Hebrews 5:4 indicates a calling to the priesthood after the manner of Aaron, Moses's right-hand man, which is by the hands of those who are in authority (5th Article of Faith). Joseph Smith taught this principle and claimed that the resurrected Peter, James, and John came to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, laid hands on their heads, and conferred upon them the Melchizedek priesthood (Hebrews 7:11, actually all of Hebrews 7 is awesome if you follow its reasoning carefully).

Because of this teaching, many Latter-Day Saint priesthood holders can trace their receipt of the priesthood "by the laying on of hands" all the way back to Jesus Christ since they claim that Peter, James, and John (who conferred it to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery) received it from Christ himself on the Mount of Transfiguration.

This priesthood authority is what enables baptisms, eternal families, and every other ordinance in the Mormon Church. It bonds father to son and grandson in a way that is hard to find a replica of in our modern world. It gives a much-needed framework to fathers for blessing their children and raising them up instead of failing to cast a ballot. It reinforces the importance of both Mom and Dad in a growing world of fatherless children. It is the scaffolding by which all members of the Mormon Church are called to reach outside of their families and take care of those in need.

As an example, I'd like to reference a recent event in my neighborhood. One Sunday afternoon, we were driving home from Grandma's house when we saw a red rim of flames appear over the ridge of a mountain just two miles south of our house. An ominous feeling came over Kristi and me and we wondered out loud how serious the situation might be. Once we got home, the fire had gotten far enough over the ridge that it was clear that it was an emergency and people would be in danger very soon.

Within minutes of us arriving home, we received a call from our Elder's Quorum President, Tony, asking us if we were alright. Then, five minutes after that, we got a call from our Relief Society President, Mitzi, asking us if we could donate any food to the displaced families. (We were blessed to be able to donate. They received so much food that they donated the surplus to the Utah Food Bank afterward.) Priesthood leaders reacted immediately to help families get evacuated quickly, and many stayed in the path of danger to help where they could, including my own bishop, Russ Nelson.

In the end, flames engulfed neighborhoods, seriously endangering hundreds of homes, but only four were lost. Most of that is attributed to excellent and dedicated firemen, but a great deal is attributed to the rapidity with which homes were evacuated and endangered people removed from the scene and cared for.
How effective might this have been had we not been such a tight-knit community with a clear leadership infrastructure like the priesthood? This story is just one of many where priesthood leadership has given the Mormon Church an awesome emergency response record.

Speaking more spiritually, it seems to me that "order" is another one of those eternal principles. God's house is a house of order, and one would expect no less from a church that claims to bear his signature of authorship. Such order does not infer social status, but radii of responsibility and stewardship, from which an unfortunate few may derive a power trip, but most derive humility.

As I said earlier, in a world that has a distaste for authority, this is a harder sell than the other two, even among other Christian religions. Actually, the synergy between the teachings of theomorphism and personal ongoing revelation (more bottom-up in nature) and priesthood authority (more top-down in nature) is absolutely fascinating. It is even more fascinating that it works. But, people want to be told what to do less than ever, and all the corrupt politicians and priests didn't do anything to help. All I can do in the end is offer my testimony that the two approaches to spirituality produce an unexpected and beautiful harmony.

I Guess Those Are The Big Ones

So, more could be said, but I think that those three encapsulate most of the other ones, including modern prophets, vicarious work, and the three degrees of glory.

There have been some that have suggested to the Mormon Church that they de-emphasize these principles since they are so different from every other Christian faith. I'm not sure how to take those statements since they that made them are so far distanced from the Mormon faith as to not realize that much of its very power lies in these very principles. These principles are what make Mormons Mormons, and, in my opinion, what makes them Christians, too.

Is the Mormon Church a lot different than the "typical Christian Church"? Heck, yeah. However, I believe this verse, written by a Mormon prophet who lived hundreds of years before Christ's birth put it:

"And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may known to what source they may look for a remission of their sins." (2 Nephi 25:26)

Christ is at the center of my life. It is from Him that I derive purpose, meaning, direction, context, motivation, fulfillment, vision, and, in a word, hope. It is He to whom I will point for the remainder of my days for any who seek to understand the "reason for the hope that is in [me]" (1 Peter 3:15). Am I a Christian? I leave it to you.

Learn a bunch more at The Official LDS Church website(s).

Update (27 March 2014):  I realized after posting this that the word is theomorphic.  I have no idea why my notes from college had theopomorphic in them.  I was probably sleepy.  :)  I've updated the references in here so that is hopefully not a distraction.

Also, I've since learned that "sola scriptura" entails a bit more than "closed canon," and it is probably a bit inaccurate of me to equate them as I did.  As I understand it now, "sola scriptura" means that the Bible alone is sufficient for a person to be a Christian.  Of course, this is still the same point that Mormons take issue with, especially with reference to a quote from Joseph Smith where, when talking about the Book of Mormon said, "Man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book."  At the risk of definition overload, Mormons also believe in a version of "sola scriptura," one where we can define scripture as including the Bible, Book of Mormon, modern revelation from living prophets, etc.

I'll leave it in for historical reasons, but I feel like the emphasis on word play in this article is a bit distracting.  Sometimes in this article, I'm trying to be linguistically accurate (theomorphic) whereas at other times I am using word play (multa scriptura, sola patria) to communicate my thoughts.  Hopefully, you still get the idea.  (I say that last sentence as if anyone has actually read this far in the post...)

Obviously, I missed a big one, and that is the trinity.  This article is more a brain dump than anything else, but maybe I'll add that one in for completeness one day.
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Comments

Mark said…
Josh,

Your balanced and respectful inclusion of others' perspectives is a breath of fresh air.

Thanks!

Mark
I agree with Mark. Very great article, Josh. Succinct and well thought-out. Thanks for sharing!
Josh Cummings said…
Thanks, Mark! Thanks, Kayleen!

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