Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mormons are not Christians

One of the things I tell my research students on an almost weekly basis is that they need to define their terms. The recent fight over whether or not Mormons are Christians is a classic case in point.

Christian denominations insist that Mormons are not Christians. Mormons insist that they are. That is due to a fundamental disagreement over what we mean when we use the term Christian. Mormons as a group don't understand why people can't figure out that we are Christian. Our church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Look, we say, it's right there in the name. We accept Christ as our Savior. We believe in the virgin birth, His death on the Cross and the Resurrection. We believe He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man cometh unto the Father except through Him.  Where is the confusion coming from, we wonder.

But as essential as that all is to being a Christian, my understanding of what is entailed in the term Christian as used by other denominations goes far beyond those doctrinal issues. It requires a belief in a creedal history that Mormons do not have.

We can share most of the Apostles creed in common with mainstream Christianity. We don't believe that Christ descended into hell while he was dead, because we don't believe in hell the way that most Christians do. Rather, we believe that during the three days between his death and resurrection, Christ organized missionary efforts amongst the righteous dead to send his message to those who died without a knowledge of Christ. We also don't really believe in the Catholic/Christian church. The Nicene and Athanasian Creeds head further into unshared water.

We don't believe in the Trinity.
We don't believe in predestination.
We don't believe that most people are going to end up in hell.
We don't believe that man is, by nature, fallen.

What do we believe?

We believe that we are literally spirit children of God the Father, that we lived with Him in heaven before we were born, and that we all chose to come to earth to further our spiritual progression.

We believe that Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are three distinct personages. 

We believe that the Fall caused death to come to this world, and that as mortals we are subjected to weakness and temptation because of our existence in a fallen world and at the hands of Satan and his followers. We believe that only through the Atonement of Christ can we be saved, both from the effects of death and sin.

We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved.

We believe that through the Atonement, not only can we be forgiven, but we can be perfected, long after this life is over. Yes, we believe that the biblical wording that "ye are gods" is actually descriptive. We can become like unto God, through probably millions of years of participation in the redemptive process of the Atonement.

We believe that families can be eternal. We believe that through ordinances available in the temple, families can continue forever.

To try and gloss over the magnitude of the differences between Mormonism and mainstream Christianity I think is both intellectually dishonest and demeans the belief systems of those who do not share our doctrine. To try and elide those differences as just minor points of disagreement is to try and ignore ideas that are so central to the spiritual life of millions of people that wars have literally been fought over these concepts.

So you know what I say? I say stop worrying about whether or not we are Christians. Christ Himself said that not everybody who says unto him, Lord, Lord will be saved.  Focus on living a Christlike life. Focus on living the gospel of Christ as you understand. Love one another. Love God above all and love your neighbor as yourself.

And fellow Mormons, stop downplaying what makes us distinctive so that we can fit in with everyone else. We are weird. We are a peculiar people. What we believe is different - amazingly, remarkably, eternally different - but that is why it is necessary. If Heavenly Father could have accomplished what he needed with the churches that were currently on the Earth, He wouldn't have had a restoration. There would have been no need for Joseph Smith, or the Book of Mormon, or temples or anything else that makes us stand out. If that makes us a cult in the worlds' eyes, so be it. I'm not particularly interested in what the world thinks of me, anyway.

Think about it this way: We believe all the people claiming the title Christian and refusing to apply it to us are apostate. So why are we so eager to fit in with them in the first place?

So stand tall, fellow Mormons. Embrace your inner Christian, come to terms with your peculiar divine nature, and let your freak flag fly.

Disclaimer: This is just my own beliefs and should not be interpreted as an official statement of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
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