Saturday, December 09, 2006

Are Mormons Christian?

Some Mormons get very offended when you assert they aren't Christians. Reader Doug Davidson, a Mormon, posted a comment of reprimand directed at me. It's reproduced below:

Mr. Rowe,

I realize that it was not your intention, in writing this article, to falsely represent the "Mormon" religion as being "non-Christian". In fact, the correct title of the "Mormon" church is, "The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter Day Saints".

Now, what person, driving down the street, reading that sign on the side of a building could come to any other conclusion but that they were looking at a CHRISTIAN house of worship. The primary book of the religion is the very same Bible that is read and studied throughout Christianity. No doubt, your false conception (and that of the "evangelical Protestant and Catholic" critics [who, of course, are completely objective observers] arises from the fact that "Mormons" also hold as sacred another volume of Scripture entitled, "The Book of Mormon". Have you ever taken the opportunity to open up the pages of this book? If so, you either have a significant deficiency in your powers of observation and/or your ability to read and comprehend the simplest of phrases. If you have not, I ask you what right (morally or scholarly) you have to make such a demonstrably false assertion in a publicly circulated article in which you purport to be learned and scholarly on the subject of religion. If you'd bother to take the time to educate yourself, you'd notice, that the full title of the book is, "The Book of Mormon; Another Testament of Jesus Christ" and on the TITLE PAGE of the Book of Mormon, the purpose of that book is clearly stated. Is it to glorify a personage by the name of "Mormon"? Is it to to deify Joseph Smith, the 'earthly founder' of the religion? Let me quote, ..
.."Which is to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever -- And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL God, manifesting himself unto all nations..." That is the stated purpose of the book, and, upon reading it, you would find the divinity of Jesus Christ to be its central theme, cover to cover. Its sole purpose is to promote Faith in and Obedience to Jesus Christ and the principles he taught. It testifies that He is the Savior of all Mankind, on all continents, all lands, and even the isles of the sea, not just the Jews in Israel. It fulfills the prohecy uttered from His own lips, "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd." (John 10:16) It tells of how, after His resurrection, he appeared to His disciples on the American continent,showed them the wounds in his hands and feet, taught them His Gospel, healed the sick, and basically re-enacted the same things He did during His ministry in Isreal. So, if the Protestants and Catholics have one book that teaches and testifies of Christ, and that qualifies them as "Christians", then you might be able to argue that Mormons have TWICE the reason to call themselves Christians as others who profess to be, but you would have a difficult time supporting the argument that "Mormons" are not Christians !!!

You may have guessed, that I AM a "Mormon", and I testify to you, that Jesus Christ is the literal Son of God; that He was concieved as the son of Mary and the Son of God; that He lived a perfect life, as an example to us and to qualify as the one and only worthy to take away my sins; that He suffered in Gethsemane and on the cross to pay for my sins; that, as the mortal son of Mary, He had the ability to die, and as the immortal Son of God, He had the ability to resurrect himself, breaking the bonds of Death and making the ressurection of my corrupt body into an eternal and incorruptible one, possible.

I testify that I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Savior; that there is NONE OTHER through whom I can receive eternal salvation and exaltation. I testify of these things IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST.

If you still have any lingering doubts, please go to and do some more research.

Please, in the future, should you have the opportunity, make it clear to your readers, listeners, etc., that "Mormons" are members of the Church of Jesus Christ, and are, in fact and in deed, Christians.

Thank you for your time.

Doug Davidson

Though I am a baptized Catholic and not an atheist, I don't consider myself "Christian," hence I'm an "outsider" to this theological debate. I've dealt with this issue before. I'm not trying to insult Mormons, but rather give a very specific understanding to the term "Christian."

My particular interest is religion and the Founding, specifically the "Christian Nation" (or "Christian America") claim. America is demographically strongly Christian and almost all of the Founders had some sort of at least formal or nominal connection to a "Christian" Church (for instance, Jefferson, Madison and Washington were all Episcopalian/Anglican). In a very broad sense, they were "Christian" as is anyone who identifies as Christian (as Jefferson and Adams did) or is nominally connected to a Christian Church. Given that I'm baptized Catholic (my final stop in that Church), one could plausibly categorize me as a Christian. John Shelby Spong, who is not only pro-gay, but like our key Founders denies much of the theology of the Bible (the miracles and prophesies), is likewise a "Christian Bishop" under this broad understanding.

Since I reject, on historical grounds, the "Christian Nation" claim, I am obviously dealing with a much narrower definition of the term "Christian," indeed one defined by the orthodox Trinitarians who put forth such claim. And according to such historically defined standards one much accept certain basic creeds -- most notably the Nicene Creed -- to qualify as a "Christian." I was simply noting if that is how one defines "Christian," then our key Founders like Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin weren't "Christians," just as Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are similarly disqualified under this narrow historical understanding.

That is the perspective from which I am looking when I make such a claim. Of course, it's possible to look at this issue from different perspectives and define Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and our key Founders (even though they were theological unitarians and universalists) as "Christians," just as it's possible to define theological and social liberals like Gene Robinson and John Shelbly Spong as "Christians." Certainly, to an outsider to Western-Christian culture looking in, like one from the Islamic nations, all of these qualify as "Christian" because all have evolved out of historic Christian Churches and the Judeo-Christian tradition.


Anonymous said...

Let’s put this “controversy” to rest, since there is no controversy.

I won’t even use the adjectives “traditional,” “orthodox,” or “historical,” but in some ineluctable chance that readers comprehend these terms, they may be helpful.

Christians, simply Christians, accept the first-six or first-seven of the Ecumenical Councils, beginning with Nicea in A.D. 325, convoked by the Roman emperor Constantine to settle matters of orthodoxy. The Council of Nicea and the next Council of Constantinople in A.D. 391 formulated many tenets of normative Christianity, and since they were the only Christians, most subsequent Christians lend their decisions significant credence. Above all else, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (Nicene, for short) became the central and universal statement of the Christian Faith. The Councils also dealt with administrative matters as well as doctrinal, including the Episcopacy, Presbytery, and Deaconate as the only valid ministers to the faithful. While the Episcopacy is regarded as a “single” entity, each bishopric is its own autonomous unit. The analogy widely used was a river with tributories or a tree with many branches.

Just for the record, the Canon of Scripture (i.e., the Bible) was not codified until the Council of Trent in the 16th C., which responded to the Protestant revision to defend Jerome’s Vulgate as authoritative. The Orthodox, which had spit in 1054 (Great Schism), included a few extra Septuagint texts not included in Jerome’s Vulgate. Also for the record, the Deuterocanonicals, which the Jewish rabbis had previously considered “inspired,” were later retracted, when Christians claimed they could find additional prophesy for Jesus in them. Jerome’s own Vulgate “straddles” the question, appending them at the end of the Vulgate. Trent a millennium later declared them “inspired.” They also held “sola scriptura” of Luther and Calvin as “anathema” and heresy. So, for context, Christianity survived more than 1,500 years without an official biblical canon.

It might be noteworthy that the Latin and Eastern Church are theologically and liturgically and structurally almost identical, even though a rift was brooding as early as the 7th C., and have retained sufficient similarity over a millennium after the Great Schism. The principal differences are the Latin Church’s addition of the “filoque” “and the Son” clause in the 13th C. and papal supremacy (rather than “primacy,” expressed in the maxim, “primus inter pares” – first among equals). Other cultural and social differences obtain, but they are mostly exaggerated by each side’s insistence that the one or the other is “truer” than the other. In candor, Orthodoxy is “truer” to its historical roots, but it’s a distinction without much difference.

Against ten, fifteen (even twenty) centuries of Christianity embodied in both the Latin and Eastern Churches, one can clearly distinguish between the “historical, theological, structural, liturgical, pietal, and other vast similarities” of the two great bodies of ancient, medieval, and modern Christianity and compare and contrast them to everything else. Anglicanism is certainly vying to stay within this network, despite an uneven history. Protestantism is very different, in that the Bible replaces the Church as ontological (would there even be a Bible without a Church? The answer is decidedly, NO.)

So simply: Normative Christianity embraces the first-six or seven Ecumenical Councils. Mormonism isn’t even mapped in any scenario.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Very interesting, Mr. Species. As a Papist (and even if I weren't one), I find your conclusion that the canon wouldn't exist without a church to canonize it a definitively logical argument.

To the point: Are Shi'as Muslim? Not according to the putatively orthosox Sunnis, and vice-versa, I imagine. And I suppose the Mormons are more analogous to the Druze, who also believe some very special things.

Does it matter? In our politics, I do believe Mitt Romney would be the slam-dunk GOP nominee in '08, but will be torpedoed by his Druzeness. Sunni and Shi'a can work together in a pinch, but there are some lines you don't cross.