While I do think that it is important for non-Mormons to recognize that Jesus Christ is the focus and foundation of our faith, I am not usually found among Latter-day Saints who so often cry, “Hey, we’re Christian, too!” This may seem like a strange position to take considering what we’ve just covered in Part 2, but hopefully it will make sense in a moment.
Mainstream Christians often include as their definition of “Christian” much more than a belief in Jesus Christ. There is no uniform or exclusive list of these additional qualifying elements, but among them could be found the following:
- Adherence to important creeds established by early church leaders, like the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, or the Athanasian Creed.
- Belief in salvation by grace alone through faith alone (as defined by mainstream Christians)
- Belief in the Trinity
- Belief in the infallibility and sufficiency of the Bible
While these elements aren’t part of a formal definition of what makes someone a Christian, they are often considered informal qualifications. What’s more, I don’t necessarily take issue with this. Christians aren’t trying to be exclusive in this definition (I would hope); rather, they, like C.S. Lewis in “Mere Christianity,” are just trying to define what a Christian is and what a Christian isn’t. Part of what makes mainstream Christianity “mainstream” is there adherence to these elements, and into this mold Mormonism does not fit.
Not Seeking Common Ground
I like how Joseph Fielding McConkie describes this issue. He says,
“Our inconsistencies may be more apparent to others than they are to us. A letter recently addressed to the editor of a Utah Valley newspaper by a local pastor illustrates this point. Bearing the title “On Common Ground,” it chided Latter-day Saints for not knowing where they stood. “Most Mormons I meet,” the minister wrote, “seem to be looking for common ground with the Christian community at large. Mormonism then relates to the outside world in two ways. On the one hand, there is the desire for acceptance, the desire to be able to say, ‘We are Christians too.‘ [The not-too-subtle implication here is that Mormons are not Christians.] On the other hand, there is the actual theology of Mormonism that grows out of the idea of the Apostasy and the belief that the LDS Church is the restoration of Christ’s one true Church. This theology motivates the missionary movement of the LDS Church, which seeks to win converts from churches that are a part of apostate Christianity. The two different approaches are not compatible. What I find myself asking is why the LDS Church is so intent on finding common ground with the very churches it considers to be apostate? Why does it seek acceptance from the very people it seeks to convert?”
“The minister’s criticism is a little embarrassing. It gives us the feeling that we have been caught. Certainly we want to avoid giving offense and of course we want to be accepted as Christians, but at what cost? Should we trade our birthright to be thought acceptable by a corrupted form of Christianity? And what becomes of our faith if we embrace the notion that we are sharing common ground with the churches of the world? In religion classes that I teach at Brigham Young University I have found with some consistency that if I say, “We are members of the only true and living Church on the face of the earth,” not even a ripple passes through the classroom. If, on the other hand, I say, “We believe all other churches to be false,” I can expect someone to take offense at my intemperate and intolerant expression. It is as if we thought we could stand for something without being against anything. It is as if we could pick up one side of a stick while leaving the other undisturbed.
“The message of the Restoration centers on the idea that it is not common ground we seek in sharing the gospel. There is nothing common about our message. The way we answer questions about our faith ought to be by finding the quickest and most direct route to the Sacred Grove. That is our ground. It is sacred ground. It is where the heavens are opened and the God of heaven speaks. It is where testimonies are born and the greatest truths of heaven are unveiled. It is of this sacred ground that we say, here we stand.”
Latter-day Saints and Jesus Christ
Do Latter-day Saints believe in Jesus Christ? Of course! As a church, “we bear testimony… that Jesus is the Living Christ, the immortal Son of God. He is the great King Immanuel, who stands today on the right hand of His Father. He is the light, the life, and the hope of the world. His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son” (The Living Christ).
But we believe differently than other Christians, and I personally relish that difference. I believe in a Jesus Christ that appeared to Israelites in the Americas, showing to them as well as other scattered tribes that he indeed had died for them and had been resurrected (See 3 Nephi 11; also 3 Nephi 11-30). I believe in a Jesus Christ who is a separate and distinct personage from the Father and the Holy Ghost (D&C 130:22). I believe in a Jesus Christ who appeared to answer the prayer of a 14 year-old boy and end the dark night of apostasy and confusion that had swept over the world since the death of the apostles (see Joseph Smith – History; see also JosephSmith.net and The First Vision at JosephSmith.net). I believe in a Jesus Christ who stands at the head of a living church, leading it today through a modern prophet.
That, friends, does not fit the tiny and exclusive mold set up by mainstream Christianity to define what qualifies as “Christian”. And that is okay.
Continuing the Series