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10 October 2018

Are Mormons Christian?

They’re pretty sure they are. And other Christians are pretty sure they’re not. Who’s right?

I’ve written more than once that we’re saved by God’s grace—which means we’re not saved by our orthodoxy. There are a lot of Evangelical Christians who’ve got it into our heads that we’re saved only once we have all the correct beliefs; a situation I call faith righteousness.

Faith righteousness is easily disproven by the fact God saves new Christians. Does any newbie hold all the correct beliefs about God? Of course not; they don’t know anything yet! None of us did. (Some of us still don’t.) But we’re pursuing a relationship with God, and as we screw up time and again, God graciously forgives our deficiencies. Might be moral deficiencies; might be doctrinal deficiencies. Makes no difference. Grace covers all.

Of course, when I teach this, people occasionally wanna know just how far they can push God’s grace. They wanna know just how egregiously they can sin before God finally says, “Nope; you’ve gone too far; you’re going to hell.” Not necessarily because they wanna sin (although let’s be honest; sometimes they totally wanna). The idea of unlimited grace sounds too good to be true. Nobody else offers unlimited grace. Even when commercials claim a company gives you unlimited stuff, there’s always fine print. Always.

Same deal with Christians who are fond of, or fixated upon, doctrines. They wanna know how heretic is too heretic. How far can we go outside the boundaries of historic Christianity before we’re simply not Christian anymore? So they wanna know about groups which call themselves Christian, but embrace heretic beliefs. Like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are Arian; like the Oneness Pentecostals, who are unitarian; like the Christian Scientists, who believe reality is a mental construct.

So let’s talk about the Mormons.

A small number of ’em aren’t okay with the term “Mormon”; they prefer “Latter-day Saint,” or LDS for short. These tend to be the older Mormons, ’cause back in the 1970s, when I first encountered them, one of their leaders apparently had a hangup about it. (It’s sorta like referring to Christians as “New Testaments.”) Nowaday’s Mormons are used to it.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the biggest of the heretic churches. For this reason I interact with plenty of Mormons; we have four of their churches in my city. I first learned what they supposedly believe when I went to Fundamentalist churches, who taught me to shun and fear them. A lot of that was hearsay from ex-Mormons with axes to grind. Since then I went to journalism school, and learned to always go to the source. So I did. Whenever the Mormons wanna evangelize me, I seize the opportunity and ask a ton of questions.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Mormons were kinda secretive about any of their beliefs which were outside the Christian mainstream. (No doubt they were made gunshy by all the hostile Fundies.) I guess somebody in their leadership realized how that came across, and got ’em to cut it out. So now they’ll tell you just about anything you wanna know. Including the weird stuff, which makes ’em a little uncomfortable, but they’re good kids and try to be honest. So if you wanna know about Mormons, don’t be afraid to ask Mormons.

Definitely not orthodox.

Mormons definitely aren’t part of the stream of historic Christianity. They’re restorationist, which means they believe Christianity went wrong after the apostles’ day, but God called their founding prophet, Joseph Smith, to put the church back on the right track. That’s their whole deal. And they’re far from the only restorationist Christians: A lot of Fundamentalist cults believe the very same way about their churches. Guess they think the Holy Spirit took a nap for a few centuries… if they even know him.

Mormons can’t say the Apostles Creed along with other Christians, nor any of the creeds. To them, God the Father Almighty made heaven and earth… but only his heaven and our earth. And long long ago, somebody made God. And after a good, devout life, death, and resurrection, he became God. And if we follow his example, so can we.

Yeah, that’s a profoundly different idea of God than we Christians have. We become like God, but we hardly become gods who rule new worlds. We see no such teachings in the bible; where’d it come from? Well, Mormon bibles have extra books. Namely the Book of Mormon—their “third testament,” consisting of scriptures they include with the bible. Any further revelations their prophets get, even in the present day, get added to their scriptures. To Latter-day Saints, the bible’s far from complete.

In the very first book of the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi, an angel told the prophet Lehi all our churches are corrupt and wrong, and that we altered the bible so we stay wrong.

26 And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.

27 And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men.

28 Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.

29 And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles; and after it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles, yea, even across the many waters which thou hast seen with the Gentiles which have gone forth out of captivity, thou seest—because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God—because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them. 1 Nephi 13.26-29

God tapped Joseph Smith to fulfill the angel’s prophecy to Lehi, restore things back to their proper order, and reject all the stuff Christians consider orthodox.

So one of the first things any Mormon missionary will tell you is they’re the one true church, with a prophet who still hears from God. They believe they can hear from God too, but their church president, i.e. their prophet, really hears from God. That’s their spiel: Their church hears God; other churches don’t. It’d be an impressive claim if I weren’t Pentecostal, but Mormons originated back when a lot of the churches Smith knew believed God stopped talking. Thus bad doctrine begets heresy. But I digress.

I should now point out Mormons aren’t entirely unorthodox. In my discussions I discovered they likewise expect God’s grace to save them. Not their works. Jesus’s self-sacrifice wholly paid the penalty for their sins. I know; various Christians claim Mormons are totally into works righteousness. It’s what the Fundies taught me too. It’s not true. Mormons try to be good, same as Christians, out of love for God. Some Christians try to be good out of the fear of hell… but Mormons are universalist, and think unless you’re profoundly rotten, like Satan, everyone goes to heaven. (And practicing Mormons get to go to an extra-special heaven.) Because grace.

If Mormons recognize God saves by grace, and recognize they just gotta trust God to save them, isn’t this essentially what they should understand about God?

How about Jesus’s teachings? Crack open a Book of Mormon and you’ll discover Jesus is in there. Mormons believe he came to the Americas to evangelize the first-century Indians. His teachings are word-for-word the same as you’ll find in a KJV New Testament. Mormons claim it’s because of supernatural revelation; I suspect Joseph Smith copied it out of a bible; let’s agree to disagree. But in my experience, Mormons generally do a much better job of trying to follow Jesus’s teachings, of loving their neighbors and producing good fruit, than your average so-called Christian.

Mormons are far from the only folks who believe they have it right, and everyone else has it wrong. Problem is, insisting you’re right is how people stay wrong.

Okay. So since Mormons are what the rest of Christendom would obviously call heretic, and since they’re resistant to any correction from us Christians, the question then becomes whether in resisting correction, they’re resisting the Holy Spirit. ’Cause claiming the Spirit’s behavior is actually devilish deception, is blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Jesus made it clear that puts us outside God’s grace. Mk 3.29 So… do Mormons go that far?

The other question is whether Mormons and orthodox Christians even worship the same God. I’ve heard various Christian apologists insist we don’t: We worship the One True God, and Mormons admit their God is one… in that he’s the one and only god Earth has. (But clearly he’s one of many gods in the Mormon understanding of the cosmos.) These apologists therefore prefer to say “the Mormon God” is not the One True God, but presume it’s an unclean spirit which plays God, which did appear to Joseph Smith, but only to lead him and all Mormons astray. Which, y’know, are fighting words. How would you like it if someone called your god a demon?

Okay, each of these ideas in turn.

How wrong is too wrong?

If you grew up heretic, surrounded by fellow heretics who tried to drum into your head that they’re right and everybody else is wrong, it’s awfully hard to accept correction. You think you’re right! You’ve been warned everybody else is devilish, so that’s what you believe, and won’t listen to them. Even when it turns out they are right.

Y’might put up a whole lot of barriers to defend your beliefs from such people. Fortunately the Holy Spirit is an expert at cracking through all these barriers. He can get through to the most closed-minded people. (He got through to us, after all.) He gets people to doubt what we’ve been incorrectly taught, guides people to truth, Jn 16.13 shows us the difference between truth and error, 1Jn 4.6 and corrects us when we go wrong. His scriptures do that too. 2Ti 3.16

So the Spirit can definitely get through to heretics. But here’s the problem: Yes heretics can learn the truth from the Holy Spirit himself, and know better. And reject the truth anyway. They can resist God’s grace. Wish they couldn’t, but they can. God gave humans free will, y’know.

If they know better—if the Spirit’s taught them better—and they reject truth and God, and embrace error and godlessness and darkness, that’s on them. That, God condemns them for. Jn 3.18-21 He gave them the chance to repent and turn to him, but they would not.

Now. Let’s pick a random heretic; let’s name him Adrastos. Has the Holy Spirit got through to Adrastos yet? Or is he still ignorantly going through life, pretty sure he’s right for his church tells him so, but still blissfully unaware he’s going astray? Unless the Spirit tells me, I don’t rightly know. And shouldn’t prejudge him: “Oh, he’s resisting the Spirit,” or “He just doesn’t know any better.” Most apologists I’ve known pessimistically claim all heretics are fighting the Spirit, so they’re all hellbound. Well they’re in no position to know that for certain. That’s their prejudices talking. It sure ain’t grace.

What if Adrastos demonstrates fruit of the Spirit? Legitimate fruit: He’s loving, he’s kind, he’s patient, he’s joyful; he acts like Jesus, or is trying to, and it’s none of the fake stuff. I should point out Mormons have a reputation, and it’s well-deserved, for exhibiting fruitful attitudes and behavior. Which is not how any devil would want ’em to behave, and throws a monkey wrench into the idea Mormons are resisting the Spirit. They’re producing his fruit, and Jesus places a way higher priority on good fruit than Evangelical Christians do. Can a Mormon stand up to Jesus’s qualification of

Matthew 25.35-36 KWL
35 “For I hungered; you gave me something to eat.
I thirsted; you gave me something to drink.
I was foreign; you let me join you. 36 Naked; you clothed me.
Unwell; you treated me. I was under arrest; you came to help me.’ ”

before he lets them into his kingdom? From what I can tell, orthodox theology aside, quite a lot of them can.

So: Bad doctrine, but good fruit. Now where does that put us?

Hopefully in a non-judgmental place. If heretics produce good fruit, it’s a sign the Holy Spirit is working on them—which means he’s not done with them! Same as he’s not done with us. So we need to be patient, same as the Holy Spirit is patient, and keep loving ’em and pointing ’em to truth.

If heretics don’t produce good fruit—and I’ve known heretics, including Mormons, who really don’t—it’s a sign they’re fighting the Spirit. Their desire to be right is getting in the way of their need to be humble. Whatever relationship they might have with God is gonna suffer—and fall apart in a way which is basically apostasy. And that’s what puts ’em in hell: Outright rebellion against God. No matter how much they might claim they still belong to him; they’re not fooling him any. He knows who’s his.

I realize a lot of Evangelicals are gonna hate this point of view I’ve presented. It’s way easier to reduce salvation to a formula of “If you’re orthodox you’re saved; if you’re heretic you’re not.” Thing is, it’s not Jesus’s formula. Orthodoxy is a sign we’re following Jesus, but it’s secondary to good fruit. And orthodoxy is the fruitless Christian’s favorite way of justifying their own evil, godless behavior. Including their lack of grace towards heretics… who just might happen to be closer to Jesus than they are. Mt 21.31

Different beliefs. Different god?

I wrote an article, “Is Allah the same as God?” about the popular Christian idea that no he’s not. Because Islam is so different from Christianity, various Christians conclude when we talk about the One God, we can’t mean the same One God as Muslims.

It’s a popular idea, but it’s not a biblical idea. Because Jesus never treated the heretic Samaritans as if they had a different God than he. He only said Samaritans didn’t know God, and the Jews did. Jn 4.22 Likewise Paul, when he spoke to the Athenians, pointed out their “unknown god” is the God, and it’s time they got to know him. Ac 17.22-31

Had the Athenians’ unknown god been just another false god, Paul couldn’t have preached any such thing. He could only have preached, “All your gods are false,” then dealt with the fallout from that radical statement instead of talking about the Most High sending us Jesus. Same with Jesus and the Samaritans: “You Samaritans worship ‘the Samaritan god,’ which is really a demon that’s led you astray. I preach the true God.” But he never said so, because it’s not true.

Christians like to think heretics and other religions are worshiping demons, because then it becomes easier to alienate and demonize those people-groups. Then it becomes easier to justify all our awful, unloving, enemy-like behavior towards them. We treat ’em like scum for good reason, we imagine. But we have no such good reasons. Even if they did worship demons (and some religions do! Dt 32.17), Jesus told us to love our enemies. Lk 6.35 To act like children of God, who doesn’t discriminate anywhere near as much as we do.

So is “the Mormon god” our God? Yes. But man alive are they teaching some incorrect stuff about him.

And since we have the common denominator of the same God, we now have a starting point to work with. Instead of having to get Mormons to take the really dangerous step of first becoming atheists before they can embrace our God (oh, you didn’t realize that was what you were expecting of them? Yikes) you can start the very same way Jesus started with the Samaritan at the well: “You don’t know who you’re worshiping. Let me introduce you to him.”

Don’t forget: If you lead a Mormon to realize they’re wrong, it calls for a drastic reorganization of their belief system. That’s no small thing! It’s a serious faith crisis. As it would be for you if that’s what you discovered. So you gotta be loving towards people who are going through that! And humble. And prayerful. Not impatient, not arrogant; you don’t wanna be a know-it-all. Jesus is right, so point ’em to Jesus. Trust the Holy Spirit to keep pulling them towards truth. Answer their questions as best you can. Be kind. It’ll take time. But it’ll bear fruit.