Among several questions being asked with increasing frequency in the public square about “Mormon” beliefs is whether those who embrace the religion are really Christian.
The topic has also received attention from a number of leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was addressed as recently as the annual world conference of the Church, broadcast from Salt Lake City earlier this month.
Elder Gary J. Coleman of the Seventy, a general level of Church leadership, asked, “What could be more Christian than seeking to take His name upon ourselves and following His counsel to become like Him?” Elder Coleman said that members of the Church subscribe to basic doctrines that define and emphasize the role of the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Elaborating later, Elder Coleman said that Latter-day Saints did not hesitate to acknowledge genuine differences of opinion with other Christians. While respecting the divergent views of other people of faith, Church leaders want to be clear about the beliefs that help define Latter-day Saints, he said.
“Embracing the teachings of Jesus Christ is often the thing that most clearly defines how Latter-day Saints see themselves,” Elder Coleman said. “Adopting gospel principles means that religious faith becomes a lifestyle. Deeply rooted values of honesty, kindness and service are the Christ-like values that Latter-day Saints seek to reflect in their lives.”
Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008), president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the proper name for the Mormon faith — told reporters in a national gathering of religion writers: “No one believes more literally in the redemption wrought by the Lord Jesus Christ. No one believes more fundamentally that He was the Son of God, that He died for the sins of mankind, that He rose from the grave, and that He is the living resurrected Son of the living Father. All of our doctrine, all of our religious practice stems from that one basic doctrinal position.”
Latter-day Saints believe that divine apostolic authority was lost from the earth following the death of Jesus Christ and His ancient apostles, resulting in a need for a restoration of that authority. Members believe it was divinely restored to the earth in the 19th century, in what the Church terms “the latter days” — hence the term “Latter-day Saints” for members of the Church today.
This belief in the restoration of the gospel and priesthood authority distinguishes the Church from Protestant faiths and their origins.
From the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ in 1830, the Church's doctrine focused on Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith, founder and first prophet, wrote in 1842 to Chicago Democrat editor John Wentworth a statement of Church beliefs. The first of these 13 doctrinal declarations, later called the Articles of Faith, stated, “We believe in God the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.”
Joseph Smith also translated an ancient volume of scripture called the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, a volume which is a complementary testament to the Holy Bible.
Elder M. Russell Ballard, one of the apostles of the Church, acknowledged in a recent address that some people baulk at using the term “Christian” to define Mormons because Church members use the Book of Mormon as well as the Bible.
“To anyone harboring this misconception, we say that we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior and the author of our salvation and that we believe, revere and love the Holy Bible,” Elder Ballard said. “We do have additional sacred scripture, including the Book of Mormon, but it supports the Bible, never substituting for it.”
“Jesus Christ dominates the Book of Mormon page by page,” explained Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “The Savior is referred to in 3,935 verses, more than half of the 6,607 verses in the book, beginning with the title page, where the purpose of the book is given as the ‘convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God.’ ”
According to Church president Gordon B. Hinckley, dedicated Latter-day Saints apply Christian beliefs in daily living.
“Members, as a people, are bound by a common love of our Master, who is the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world,” he said. “We are a covenant people who have taken upon ourselves His holy name.”
The primary worship service in the Mormon faith is the sacrament service — the equivalent of communion. There, each Sunday, Church members take emblems of bread and water to represent the body and blood of Christ.
Most active members also demonstrate their commitment to the Savior by serving in the lay ministry and other responsibilities of Church administration, by offering time and resources to community and humanitarian causes and by sharing the message of the restoration through missionary efforts worldwide.