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OBJECTIVE VOICES ON THE CHRISTIAN QUESTION

In a previous post, I responded to a question raised by a detractor in an e-mail to Jeff Lindsey regarding how “honest” it is to claim that Mormons are Christians.[1] Another question which was emailed to Lindsey deals with “objectivity.” Lindsey quotes them as follows:

“You only say that you consider yourself a Christian. I'm curious to know why. Objectively speaking, Christianity and Mormonism are different religions. Notice, please, that I am not saying which one is right.”

According to this persons point of view, Mormons are not Christians, “objectively speaking.” Once again, Lindsey gives his own response to this question, but I thought I might share my thought on this.[2]

First off, I personally think that objectivity is an unattainable ideal. That is not to say that I do not think that objectivity is important to aim for, just that ultimately we all fall short of “objectivity.” However, if anybody is going to be able to assess “objective truth” on this question, it will be neither the Mormon apologists nor the Evangelical anti-Mormon. Why not? Because neither of these holds a “neutral” stance on the issue. Both have preconceived notions on what “Christian” and “Mormon” mean and whether or not the two are mutually exclusive.

In order to get an answer closer to “objective” you will need an outside, neutral observer of the debate to weigh in. Such “neutral observers” would be those who feel no benefit from excluding Mormons from being Christians, but also have no reason to insist that Mormons be counted as part of Christianity.

Many such “neutral observers” have identified Mormons as Christians. In 1994 the Virginia Regional Board of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) unanimously affirmed a statement which identified the LDS Church as “a well established group of Christian believers,”[3] and about four years later a religious studies textbook was published in which the collaborating authors dubbed Mormonism as “another Christian religion.”[4] Harvey Cox, a professor at Harvard Divinity School, said “I do not at all exclude Mormons from their claims to be Christians.” Episcopal Bishop Carolyn Irish and Roman Catholic Deacon Owen Cummings, likewise grant Mormons Christian status.[5] Academic theologian W.D. Davies said that “Mormonism is the Jewish-Christian tradition in an American key,” adding that, “What it did was to re-Judaize a Christianity that had been too much Hellenized.”[6] The great scholar of Judaism, Jacob Neusner, said “Christianity encompasses a remarkably diverse set of religious systems…Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox, Methodist, Mormon, and Lutheran—each is comprised by clearly delineated groups of Christians.”[7] Prominent New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman likewise classifies Mormons as a part of Christianity.[8] David Waltz, a Catholic who has been seriously studying Mormonism for 23 years, said “Attempts by Evangelicals…to exclude Mormonism as Christian, via the principles of ‘private judgment’ and ‘sola scriptura,’ are simply naive and misinformed…one cannot, in all honesty, exclude Mormonism as Christian.”[9] Catholic Priest Jordan Vajda, who wrote his Master’s thesis on the LDS doctrine of deification (and how it compares to that of Eastern Orthodox), believes that the Latter-day Saints represent a new dispensation of Christianity. Thus, although he views Mormonism as a distinct and separate religious tradition from “Historic Christianity,” he still identifies it as a form Christianity, and he distinguishes Latter-day Saints as “Restoration Christians.”[10] Jan Shipps, who is probably the foremost non-LDS scholar of Mormonism – who is even acknowledged as a “Mormonism expert” by many anti-Mormons – holds a similar position to that of Vajda, saying, “My point is that both [LDS and RLDS] are forms of Christianity, yet both differed from the Christianities that existed in 1830 – and they still do.”[11]

Several more “neutral observers” could be cited here. In addition to these intelligent, well informed, neutral observers, various reputable media outlets, encyclopedias, and religious and government organizations classify the LDS Church as a Christian church.[12] It would be difficult to find an honest, dispassionate observer who has studied both Mormonism and Christianity and determined that the former is not a type of the latter.

With so many objective voices affirming Mormons as Christians, I find it hard, “objectively speaking,” to view Mormons as non-Christians.

------------------------------------------------

Notes:

1. See my article, “Honest Communication: Christian or Non-Christian?” (June 19, 2010). For Lindsey’s own response to the same question, see Jeff Lindsey, “Since you have beliefs that differ from mainstream Christianity, isn't it misleading to use the term Christian? For honest communication, shouldn't a different term be used?” LDSFAQ: Are Mormons Christians? Certainly!

2. See Jeff Lindsey, “Isn’t it Objectively True that Mormons aren’t Christians?” LDSFAQ: Are Mormons Christians? Certainly!

3. The National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ), “The National Conference Statement on Religious Freedom.” Adopted by the Virginia Regional Board on February 4, 1994.

4. John Corrigan, Frederick M. Denny, Carlos M.N. Eire, and Martin S. Jaffee, Jews, Christians, Muslims: A Comparative Introduction to Monotheistic Religions (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1998), pg. 51

5. Harvey Cox, Carolyn Irish, and Owen Cummings all quoted in Peggy Fletcher Stack and Bob Mims, “Drive Toward Mainstream Christianity Not Smooth for LDS Church” Salt Lake Tribune, March 31, 2001.

6. W.D. Davies, “Israel, the Mormons and the Land,” in Truman G. Madsen (Editor), Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian Parallels, pg. 91

7. Jacob Neusner, The Way Of Torah, 6th edition, pg. 15 (emphasis added)

8. Oxford University Press (OUP) Blog, “A Few Questions for Bart Ehrman” (October 9, 2006)

9. David Waltz, “Back to School” Introduction to “A FAIR Analysis of: Mormonism 101 – A work by author: Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson”

10. Jordan Vajda, “Introduction” Partakers of the Divine Nature (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002 ). Later, Vajda took the lessons from the missionaries and was baptized. Still, he was a strong, Catholic Priest when he wrote the thesis.

11. Jan Shipps, “Is Mormonism Christian? Reflections on a Complicated Question,” BYU Studies 33:3, pg. 443

12. For a sampling of such sources, see the FAIRwiki response to “Latter-day Saints aren’t Christian”

Comments

  1. I'm pretty sure that Jesus said himself to not listen to anyone claiming themselves as prophet, whether it be man OR angel. I don't have the exact quote but i know its in the bible. I'm pretty sure that Mormons holding prophets is a direct contradiction to Jesus's teachings, and therefore Christianity.
    Here is one example:
    Matthew 7:22-23
    "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"
    And there is more where that came from, regarding the topic.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Simply because Jesus said that SOME who claim to be prophets will be false does not mean that ALL prophets will be false. Just before that verse, Jesus says we will know prophets by their fruits (Matt. 7:16-20). If ALL prophets will be false, why to we need to tests them by their fruits? Why didn't Jesus just say, "All prophets will be false, so don't listen to any of them"?

    If having prophets makes one at odds with Christianity, than what do you make of the disciples at Antioch (who were the first ones called "Christians"), who had prophets among them? (Acts 11:26-28; Acts 13:1-3)

    Christ said he would send prophets who would be rejected (Matt. 23:24), and Paul taught that Christ had placed prophets in the Church (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 2:20; Eph 4:11).

    If having prophets makes Mormons non-Christians, then the 1st Century New Testament Church was non-Christian. Are you willing to exclude the very authors of the New Testament from Christianity? Because that is what your given qualification (of no prophets) does.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Another problem with your comment, is it ignores everything I put in my posting. If there is really anything in the Bible that can exclude Mormons from being Christians, then how is it that so many renowned biblical scholars and theologians not notice it? How can the likes of Harvey Cox (and Harvard Divinity School) and W.D. Davies (who was part of Duke's religious studies program) and the others mentioned above not realize that the Bible eliminates Mormons from Christianity?

    Please use comments to address my arguments, rather than ignore them.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nice post Neal.

    Regarding the "honesty" of Mormons using the term "Christian" for themselves, it would be quite misleading if the opposite were true. That is, if Mormons referred to themselves as "non-Christian" it would cause those unfamiliar with us to assume that we don't believe in Jesus Christ, read the Bible, or believe in a host of other ideas associated with Christianity (ie Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, salvation, grace, faith, baptism, heaven, hell, atonement, etc.)

    Regarding Micah's comments, my usual response is to clarify exactly what it is they are saying. Micah probably means something like, "The Bible says that if an angel comes and teaches something new about Jesus then it is false." Well, I'd ask Micah what he makes of the Book of Revelation at the end of the New Testament.

    James

    ReplyDelete
  5. I will never understand the "Mormons aint Christians" thing. These guys scream and scream about Mormons not being christians while giving Jews and Muslims a free pass (although according to them Jews and Muslims will burn forever in eternal hellfire). We all know what a Hindu sage in India would say if you were to explain LDS doctrine to him: "Oh, it's another branch of Christianity."

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Weston,

    I understand the insistence that we Mormons are not Christians is strange and confusing. And (as the post makes evident), I personally feel it is incorrect to call Mormons non-Christians. However, I understand (at least a little bit) why they feel that way though - it's because they are defining the word "Christian" in a very narrow, theological sense. I disagree with this, and believe it is unfair for one group to, in effect, monopolize the word "Christian" for their own purposes, but by realizing they are defining the word differently it helps improve communication. James (the above commenter), actually wrote a great series on that very thing:

    Part 1 - http://lehislibrary.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/what-is-a-christian-part-1/

    Part 2 - http://lehislibrary.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/what-is-a-christian-part-2/

    Part 3 - http://lehislibrary.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/what-is-a-christian-part-3/

    I hope that helps.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Prophets and apostles, and all other offices, will only ever be no longer necessary and redundant within Christianity when all Christians are perfected, when the ministry of the Church is complete, when all Christians are unified, when all Christians are edified, until all Christians have a positive and proper understanding of the person, character, work, ministry, and accomplishments of Jesus Christ the Son of God and understand his nature, his divinity, his messianic calling, and especially his relationship to his Father, that all Christians share in a common understanding of Christian doctrine and the stormy doctrinaire issues that have separated and divided Christianity over the course of two thousand years are all settled, finalised, and approved by Divinity, that false notions, doctrines, and superstitions are debunked and defunct and no longer believed by superstitious and ignorant Christians, when all Christians speak the divine truths they have been taught by apostles and prophets and do so in the spirit of the pure love of Christ, and until all Christians grow to be like Jesus Christ their head and guide, exemplar, advocate, saviour, lord, and king, and all Christians everywhere come together after the divine pattern, each one fitting together in Christ’s Church as the members of the human body fit together to make one unified whole.

    When all the conditions stated by Paul are achieved, and only then, then there will be no need for apostles and prophets to lead the Church of Jesus Christ. But since none of the above have occurred since Christ founded his Church in New Testament times, but conditions within the seething and battling masses of Christians have grown steadily worse down the centuries, this is not time to do away with the very officials that Jesus Christ put into his own Church to bring about the unity of all Christians.

    To presume to tell Paul that he is wrong or that his conditions have been met, is to denounce the Bible as an unreliable source of authority and guidance, and no Bible believing Christian will ever take such an unscriptural and unchristian position.

    The position taken by Anti-Mormons or Anti-Mormonismists is untenable when compared with our common book of scripture, the Holy Bible.

    It takes a very strong stomach to ignore the teachings of the Bible whilst at the same time clinging to it as the only source of information. It is like a drowning man at se being thrown a lifebelt and then his refusing to use it. He abandons his position as a Practising Lifebeltist, just as surely as Christians that ignore the teachings of the Bible so they can poke Mormons in the eye – as they suppose – with a sharp stick, yet shun fundamental biblical teachings, can no longer be called Biblical Christians.

    ~Ronnie Bray

    ReplyDelete
  8. If Evangelicals were correct that in order to be a Christian, one must adhere to these principles, then they are saying that there were no Christians prior to the Reformation. These principles would be:

    1. Sola Scriptura, including the belief in a final infallible and authoritative scripture and that all doctrine is derived therefrom.

    2. Sola Fide. Or, that Salvation comes by faith alone.

    3. God having neither body, parts or passions as enshrined in the Westminster Confession.

    4. A Priesthood of all believers.

    5. The idea that ordinances such as baptism and confirmation have absolutely nothing to do with salvation but are optional.

    More could be given, but these will suffice for this post. It is simply not possible to find the Reformed theology and practice as seen in Evangelical circles being represented either in the Bible accounts or in the history of the developing Church as we can trace it through time. Most if not all of the ideas mentioned came out of the authority arguments of the Reformation.

    ReplyDelete

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