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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What is a Christian?

I've already established that I do not believe Mormonism to be a cult in the normal sense of the word. I think I've also made it clear that I don't classify Mormonism as Christian, either. That doesn't mean that I think they're dirty rotten folk who ought to be spurned. Not at all. They're generally pretty well-behaved people with high moral standards. But I've known atheists with high moral standards who would also not classify themselves as Christians. And it's not that they're simply mistaken. I think lots of genuine Christians are mistaken. It's that they're mistaken on fundamental issues that define Christianity.

What, then, is a Christian? Mormons would like to tell you that it's in your behavior. You know, Jesus said, "You will recognize them by their fruits." And if that is Christian, then (many) Mormons are indeed Christians. But, if that is "Christian", then so is any moral person who is a Buddhist, Hindu, Moslem, or even atheist. Since essentially all religions preach morality, then anyone who follows any religion, by this definition, is a Christian. And that, my friends, makes no sense.

Jesus made a different distinction. "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (John 3:17-18). "Christian", by this definition, is someone who believes in "the only Son of God". Of course, that immediately becomes hazy because any informed atheist will admit that Jesus existed. Does that mean that they "believe in" Him? No one would say so. Apparently, then, it's not as simple as that, either. (Before we look further, remember that neither is it more complex than that. We just need clarification.)

The Gospel that is Christianity can be found in Ephesians 2. Here we see the problem and the answer. Humans are "dead in sins" (problem) (Eph 2:1-3). The answer is found in a God "rich in mercy" (Eph 2:4-7). Redemption from our sin condition is found by God's grace in the belief (faith) that Christ alone can rescue us from our condition (Eph 2:8-9). It's not works (Eph 2:9). It produces works (Eph 2:10), but that's not the means of salvation. That would be "Christianity" in its simplest form.

There is, of course, an underlying necessity here. The characters of this religion must be the same. Placing my faith in Jesus, my neighbor's Mexican gardener, wouldn't qualify. "What??!! I trust Jesus for my salvation! How can that be a problem?!" It has to be the Jesus who is, in Jesus's words, "the only Son of God". And, of course, it has to be the God whose Son He is. Other gods have other sons. Those don't count any more than the neighbor's gardener does. (No insult intended to the neighbor's gardener. He may produce a lovely lawn, just not salvation.)

As it turns out, then, the "God" that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worships is not the same God whose Son we are to trust. Theirs is one of many while the God of Christianity is singular -- the one and only (Deut 4:35, 39; 1 Kings 8:60; Isa 45:5-6, 18; Mark 12:32; Eph 4:6; 1 Tim 2:5). Jesus is the only Son of God (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9) while their "God" has many sons. While Christianity has a God who is three-in-one (too many references to list), they have many gods of many worlds, with the "God" of our world being only one of a multitude.

The Christian God is one and only. The Mormon God is not. The Christian Christ is the only begotten Son of God, a member of the Godhead. The Mormon Christ is not. Christian salvation is by faith in Christ apart from works. Mormon salvation is not. (On their website they claim, "This part of our existence is a time of learning in which we can prove ourselves, choose to come unto Christ, and prepare to be worthy of eternal life." The fundamental issue for biblical Christianity is that we cannot "prove ourselves" or "prepare to be worthy of eternal life".) Just operating on low-level, essential Christianity without any high theological discussion, it cannot be said that the LDS religion meets the criteria of essential Christianity.

One other point I'd like to make on the topic. This is another one of those questions about the efficacy of the Holy Spirit. Christ promised His Spirit would lead His people into all truth. Orthodox Christianity has claimed that the Holy Spirit has done just that. Mormons hold that "The true doctrine of the Godhead was lost in the apostasy that followed the Savior's mortal ministry and the deaths of His Apostles." They argue, "As the Bible was compiled, organized, translated, and transcribed, many errors entered the text." They make it clear that "Individuals cannot be saved in their sins; they cannot receive unconditional salvation simply by declaring a belief in Christ with the understanding that they will inevitably commit sins throughout the rest of their lives." In other words, they deny in the fundamentals the historic view of the Church and Scripture, arguing instead that some 1800 years after Christ, Joseph Smith got it all straightened out. As I've made clear, this is a serious problem.

Are Mormons moral people? Largely, sure. That's not the question. Is Mitt Romney a good candidate for President? That's a question you'll have to answer for yourself. But don't do so based on whether or not he is a Christian. We don't have a "Christian requirement" for the office. (I'd suggest that many men voted into the office have not been Christians -- even some you like.) You need to decide what your values are when you vote for whomever you vote, and whether or not Mormons are Christians is likely not to be one of them. Nor am I suggesting that Mormons are to be vilified. They're as wrong as any other religion and need Christ like everyone else -- the real Christ. Please note, as well, that Mormons believe the same thing about Christians who are not Mormons. If you're one of those, you're wrong and need to change your beliefs. That goes two ways.

Other sources:
Mormonism 101
"Mormons Aren't Christians" Is Not an Epithet
LDS Test

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