Jesus Christ/Accusations that Mormons aren't Christians/Evangelical arguments

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Evangelical arguments regarding Mormonism and Christianity

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It is evident from what has been said, that the Mormons, as such, can have no part or lot in the religion of Jesus Christ—and we do not see how any one can be their friend, (as Mormons,) without being an enemy to God.

—James M’Chesney, An Antidote To Mormonism, revised by G. J. Bennet (New York, NY: Burnett & Pollard, 1838), 49. off-site Full title

Some claim we are not Christians. They either do not know us at all or they misunderstand. In the Church every ordinance is done by the authority of and in the name of Jesus Christ.

—President Boyd K. Packer, "Guided by the Holy Spirit," general conference, April 2011.
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Gospel Topics on LDS.org: "Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unequivocally affirm themselves to be Christians"

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unequivocally affirm themselves to be Christians. They worship God the Eternal Father in the name of Jesus Christ. When asked what the Latter-day Saints believe, Joseph Smith put Christ at the center: “The fundamental principles of our religion is the testimony of the apostles and prophets concerning Jesus Christ, ‘that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended up into heaven;’ and all other things are only appendages to these, which pertain to our religion.”1 The modern-day Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reaffirmed that testimony when they proclaimed, “Jesus is the Living Christ, the immortal Son of God. … His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come.” —(Click here to continue) [1]


Question: Does the Book of Mormon talk of Jesus Christ?

Book of Mormon is completely Christ-centered: Christ is found on virtually every page

Wrote one author:

Years ago, Susan Easton Black tabulated all of the occurrences of the names and titles of Jesus in the Book of Mormon. [2]...According to Black, 101 names or titles of Christ are presented in the Book of Mormon. These include the names/titles Lord God Omnipotent, Redeemer of Israel, Shepherd, and Son of the Living God, each of which is found once in the work. The names/titles Stone, True Messiah, Mighty One of Jacob, and Great Creator are each found twice; the names/titles Holy One of Israel, Lamb of God, Lord Jesus Christ, Redeemer, and Messiah each appear 10 or more times; and the names/titles Christ, God, Jesus, Lord, and Lord God are each found at least 100 times in the book. In all, the 101 names/titles of Christ are collectively presented 3,925 times in 6,607 Book of Mormon verses. [3] Black’s tabulation of the names and titles shows that on average, one name or title of Christ appears once every 1.7 verses. [4]

With the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon is the foundational scripture of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Christ is found on virtually every page.


Question: Do Mormons meet the definition of the word "Christian"?

The attempt to define "Christian" in such a way as to exclude Latter-day Saints is really the recent work of a minority group within Protestantism

Some Christians claim that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not "Christian." A related claim is that the Church has only recently begun to portray itself as "Christian" in order to gain adherents.

Critics often use unnecessarily narrow and self-referential definitions of "Christian" to exclude Latter-day Saints. They ignore the fact that many other Christians over the millennia would have disagreed with them on the same points, yet this does not disqualify these other believers from the family of "Christians."

While Mormons realize that there can be honest disagreement regarding definitions, the church encourages its members, as followers of Christ, to exhibit civil dialogue:

There has been no end to opposition. There are misinterpretations and misrepresentations of us and of our history, some of it mean-spirited and certainly contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ and His gospel. Sometimes clergy, even ministerial organizations, oppose us. They do what we would never do. We do not attack or criticize or oppose others as they do us...Strangest of all, otherwise intelligent people claim we are not Christian. This shows that they know little or nothing about us. It is a true principle that you cannot lift yourself by putting others down.[5]

The assertion that Latter-day Saints are not Christian has at its base the idea that the Latter-day Saints don't meet the definition of the word "Christian." But the meanings of words are determined by usage and acceptance. If a definition is widespread (used by many people), persistent (used over a long period of time), and established (accepted by individuals and organizations that are respected and assumed to be knowledgeable) then we can confidently state that the definition is correct and accurate.

The attempt to define "Christian" in such a way as to exclude Latter-day Saints (and many other groups that are generally considered to be some kind of Christian denomination or religion) is really the recent work of a minority group within Protestantism. The nearly-universal and nearly-2000-year-old usage of the word "Christian" has clearly included unorthodox groups that disagree, sometimes sharply, with the teachings and practices of those who claim to be able to define Latter-day Saints out of the Christian fold.

The following are some organizations and resources that classify The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as Christian

The following are some organizations and resources that classify The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as Christian. The range of sources from encyclopedias to media outlets to government organizations supports the fact that the definition of "Christian" includes Latter-day Saints.

  • Yahoo Directory: "Christian Denominations and Sects" off-site
  • adherents.com: "Largest Branches of Christianity in the U.S." off-site
  • beliefnet: "Faiths and Practices" index off-site
  • MSN Encarta encyclopedia: "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" off-site
  • RSN (Religion New Service): Religion Backgrounders off-site
  • PBS (Public Broadcasting Service): "The Church: A Brief History" off-site
  • BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) off-site
  • World Council of Churches (WCC): Churches off-site
  • National Council of Churches (NCC): National Council of Churches’ 2005 "Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches." off-site
  • United States Department of State: International Religious Freedom Report 2004 (Tonga) off-site


Question: Do Mormon beliefs or practices exclude them from being considered Christian?

Latter-day Saints are not excluded from being considered Christans by belief or practice

When critics make the claim that LDS are not Christian, they typically will present a laundry list of doctrines and practices that they believe put LDS outside the category of "Christian." At its base, this claim is an excellent example of the No true Scotsman fallacy.

There are two problems with such lists. The first, and most important, is that the original and enduring meaning of "Christian" has been a person or group whose beliefs or practices are founded on the life and/or teachings of Christ. That is, all groups whose religion is founded on Jesus of Nazareth have been classified as Christian since the term was first coined in the first century, regardless of specific beliefs and practices. "Christian" has always included such wildly diverse groups as the Ebionites, the Marcionites, and the Christian Gnostics of ancient times, along with Unitarians and Coptic Christians in modern times. Critics may believe that LDS are "false Christians" or "heretical Christians" or "hell-bound Christians," seeing that such terms are subjective and without standard definitions, but neither belief nor practice can exclude any group from the family of Christian religions and denominations if that group claims to be founded on the life or teachings of the first-century Jesus of Nazareth.

The list of objectionable beliefs and practices used to exclude LDS from the Christian family are lists of beliefs and practices that are found in other groups that are clearly classified as Christian

The second problem with the critics' list is that their list of objectionable beliefs and practices used to exclude LDS from the Christian family are lists of beliefs and practices that are found in other groups that are clearly classified as Christian. The claimed bases for the charge that the LDS are not Christians include:

All of these doctrinal differences have been held not just by the LDS, but by other Christians as well

However, all of these doctrinal differences have been held not just by the LDS, but by other Christians as well, including the early Christians of the first and second centuries. [6] These Christians:

  • were not Trinitarians, since the creeds were not yet formulated
  • did not teach creatio ex nihilo
  • did not consider "the Bible" to be the sole authoritative scripture, since it was not compiled until centuries later
  • considered some writings to be authoritative which many modern Christians now reject
  • taught theosis, or human deification through Christ
  • followed living prophets (the apostles)

One might debate whether these Christians were correct or complete in their beliefs, but can the critics seriously exclude them from the family of Christians? [7]

Critics of Mormonism essentially create a definition of "Christian" that includes their brand of Christianity, and excludes others with whom they disagree

The critics essentially create a definition of "Christian" that includes their brand of Christianity, and excludes others with whom they disagree. The merriam-webster dictionary defines the word Christian to mean "one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ". [8] The Oxford Dictionaries Online defines the word Christian as "a person who has received Christian baptism or is a believer in Jesus Christ and his teachings". [9] Critics have the right to disagree, but their claim that Mormons are not Christian is just their opinion or their religious belief.


Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb: "Mormons are Christians who do not know where to stop"

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[10]

In affirming the divinity of Jesus, Mormons are Christians who do not know where to stop. Thy answer the question of whether it is possible to say too much about Jesus with a resounding “No!”

Indeed, never has a religious movement combined so effortlessly the most extravagant assertions with the most level-headed and commonsensical tone. Mormon rhetoric is guided by the conviction that the only way to say enough about Christ is to say too much. As a result, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints puts Jesus Christ front and center in ways that would make many members of mainline Protestant denominations blush. Mormon theology is Christology unbound—extremism in defense of Christology that can appear eccentric only to those who think that understatement is a virtue. [11]:85

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb: The "sameness of Jesus" and humanity

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[10]

Mormonism can be a controversial topic for many non-Mormon Christians, but I have come to the conclusion that no theology has ever managed to capture the essential sameness of Jesus with us in a more striking manner. [11]:83

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb: Mormonism an exciting mirror for other Christians

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[10]

Of all the branches of Christianity, Mormonism is the most imaginative, and, if nothing else, its intellectual audacity should make it the most exciting conversational partner for traditional Christians for the twenty-first century. Studying Mormonism is like looking into a mirror that, upon closer inspection, turns into a maze. Keep exploring and the maze leads to multiple exits, each of which opens onto hauntingly familiar rooms that comprise unexpected additions to the mansion of faith. [11]:85

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb: Mormonism's differences try "to do justice to the honor and glory of Jesus Christ"

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[10]

Mormonism is a mirror because it departs from traditional theology most radically only when it is trying to do justice to the honor and glory of Jesus Christ. [11]:85

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb: Revelation versus "historical guesswork" about Jesus

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[10]

Still, too much theology today is beholden to historical guesswork that keeps Jesus bound by the written page. Seen in this light, Mormonism unleashes a squall of fresh air on the question of who Jesus Christ really is. [11]:YYYY

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb: Creedal Christians in effect say the LDS make "too much of Jesus Christ"

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[10]

Christ has never been logos asarkos (the Word without form or the divine voice without body). If this is theological error, it is on the side of excess rather than deficiency, resulting in an immoderate Christology born out of a surplus rather than an insufficiency of faith. It puts creedal Christians in the odd position of saying that Mormons make too much of Jesus

Christ. Is such excess really a vice? [11]:89

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb: Creedal Christians can learn from LDS views about Jesus Christ and creation

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[10]

[In LDS doctrine] Matter as we know it has a beginning, an origin, in Christ, but matter as it can be, in its perfected form, is eternally an attribute of the divine. In this way, the eternity of matter can be conceived without falling into the trap of pantheism, and this possibility, I am convinced, is precisely what Joseph Smith saw, even if he did not put it into these words or this theological context.

Th Mormon Church stakes its whole theology on the coherence of the idea that God formed the world from a material substance that is not totally unlike his own divine nature. That makes Mormonism either a religious oddity in Western history or an utterly crucial metaphysical correction to our understanding of the role and value of matter in God’s creation of the world. At the very least, Mormonism presents a prod to theological thought at the precise time when materiality is more central to public awareness than ever before. Our relationship to the material world, whether it goes by the name of environmentalism, ecology, sustainability, or evolution has never been so urgently pressed before us as today. To respond to this urgency, we need not only an ethic but also a metaphysics of matter.

We cannot know how to treat matter unless we know what it is, and the nature of matter has to include but ultimately go beyond the specificities of science. We need to know what matter is for, where it comes from, and to what extent it is identical to what we are. These are the central questions of our time, and creedal Christians can answer them only in a self-critical and mutually beneficial dialogue with Latter-day Saints—and that dialogue has to begin with an assessment of the life and thought of Joseph Smith. [11]:94–95

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. "Are Mormons Christian?," Gospel Topics on LDS.org
  2. Susan Easton Black, Finding Christ through the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987). Susan Ward Easton [Black], “Names of Christ in the Book of Mormon,” Ensign (July 1978): 60-61.
  3. Black, Finding Christ, 5. Chapter 22
  4. Donald W. Parry, "The Book of Mormon," in Susan Easton Black, Expressions of Faith: Testimonies of Latter-day Saint Scholars (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1996), 216–217.
  5. Boyd K. Packer, "A Defense and a Refuge," Ensign (November 2006), 85–88.
  6. For a discussion by a non-LDS, conservative evangelical on points of doctrine upon which modern evangelical Christianity differs with the doctrines taught by the early Christian Fathers, see: David W. Bercot, Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up: A New Look at Today's Evangelical Church in the Light of Early Christianity, 3rd edition, (Tyler, Texas: Scroll Publishing Company, 1999[1989]), 1. ISBN 0924722002 off-site
  7. For a discussion of these issues, see Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, "Comparing LDS Beliefs with First-Century Christianity, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, no date). off-site
  8. Christian. 2012. In Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved November 24, 2012, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Christian
  9. "Christian". Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010. Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010. Oxford University Press. 24 November 2012 <http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/american_english/Christian>.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 "Webb is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He is a graduate of Wabash College and earned his PhD at the University of Chicago before returning to his alma mater to teach. Born in 1961 he grew up at Englewood Christian Church, an evangelical church. He joined the Disciples of Christ during He was briefly a Lutheran, and on Easter Sunday, 2007, he officially came into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church."
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 Stephen H. Webb, "Godbodied: The Matter of the Latter-day Saints (reprint from his book Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (Oxford University Press, 2012)," Brigham Young University Studies 50 no. 3 (2011). Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "webbBook" defined multiple times with different content