The seemingly never-ending discussion among some Bible-believing Christians -- "Are Mormons Christian?" -- cropped up again last week, this time in the respected First Thoughts blog attached to First Things magazine.
The initial post and the steady stream of responses showed once again that, for some on both sides of the debate, the positions are entrenched. And unfortunately, they both have a tendency to talk past one another. For most Latter-day Saints, any dispute as to whether they are Christians misses the mark, since they know whom they worship as the Son of God and they are at least as familiar with the King James Bible's account of that matchless life as their counterparts in other faiths. To make things clear, for Latter-day Saints there is absolutely no equivocation on these central doctrinal points: Jesus Christ is the Son of God, sent to Earth to teach the truth and redeem mankind. He died on the cross and was literally resurrected three days later. He atoned for the sins of mankind.
Yet for some Christians, their understanding of the term "Christian" brings with it certain theological arguments and a historical framework that doesn't fit within the doctrinal system of the restored gospel in these latter days. For them the term "Christian" is often a reference to the more narrow term "creedal Christian" -- adherence to a set of creeds formulated centuries after biblical writings, which are not themselves canonical. This term includes subscribing to specific beliefs and practices, together with the Christian ethical system that changed the world. It may well mean accepting the inerrancy of the Bible. It leaves little or no room for new revelation beyond what they regard as orthodoxy.
Perhaps there is a way around this.
When Mormons say they are Christian, they are not suggesting that their beliefs line up perfectly with evangelicals or Catholics or other Christians. Using the term "Christian" is not an attempt to gain acceptance into the mainstream -- something that has little appeal or relevance to Latter-day Saints. Mormons are not interested in parsing semantics or embracing the Nicene Creed or any other post-New Testament creed in order to be accepted by the world of Christian orthodoxy. While there is more common ground between Mormons and creedal Christians than many realize, the differences are also substantial.
Latter-day Saints revere the Bible as a sacred volume of scripture. They cherish its teachings and engage in a lifelong study of its divine wisdom and revelation. The Bible is the word of God, "as far as it is translated correctly" (8th Article of Faith). During the centuries-long process in which fallible human beings compiled, translated and transcribed the Bible, various errors entered into the text. However, this does not override the overwhelming predominance of truth within the Bible.
What Mormons mean when they say they are Christian is that they follow Jesus Christ. Their religion teaches them not only that they should embrace the teachings of Jesus but also that they should try to model their lives on the pattern He set. All Christians can acknowledge that the Lord offered two commandments as primary -- to love God and to love our neighbors. Doing so makes us followers of Christ, theological interpretations of doctrines notwithstanding.
At the April 2010 general conference of the Church -- a two-day series of sermons broadcast worldwide to millions of Church members in dozens of languages -- it was easy to see this theme of "follow me" presented time and time again. Some of the statements from the Church's apostles are shown below. Our brothers and sisters in Christian denominations will be reassured as they come to recognize the compassionate love of Christ and devotion to His word that animates the lives of Latter-day Saints. Simply put, we are followers of Jesus Christ. A failure to see this will perpetuate the chasm of misunderstanding that has proven so difficult to bridge.
President Thomas S. Monson:
"Thank you, my brothers and sisters, for your faith and devotion to the gospel of Jesus Christ. ... May the Lord bless you as you strive to follow Him and to obey His commandments."
President Boyd K. Packer:
"It has never been easy to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was not easy when He lived, and it was not easy in the early days of the Church. The early Saints were subjected to unspeakable suffering and opposition."
Elder M. Russell Ballard:
"How much better your life will be if you will follow the noble example of the faithful followers of Christ."
President Henry B. Eyring:
"We help God's children best by providing ways to build faith in Jesus Christ and His restored gospel when they are young. And then we must help rekindle that faith quickly before it dims as they wander off the path.
Elder L. Tom Perry:
"It is the duty of parents to teach their children these saving principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, so that they will know why they are to be baptized and that they may be impressed in their hearts with a desire to continue to keep the commandments of God after they are baptized, that they may come back into his presence.
"There is no such thing as overpreparing to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ, for gospel insights, whether or not they are used during class time, can always be taught in the home.
"Teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in the home adds another layer of insulation to protect our children from worldly influences."
Elder D. Todd Christofferson:
"By His word, as Alma said, He enlarges our memory, sheds light on falsehood and error, and brings us to repentance and to rejoice in Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.
"We were not there to hear the Sermon on the Mount, to see Lazarus raised from the dead, to see the suffering Savior in Gethsemane and on the cross, and we did not, with Mary, hear the two angels testify at the empty tomb that Jesus was risen from the dead. You and I did not go forward one by one with the multitude in the land Bountiful at the resurrected Savior's invitation to feel the prints of the nails and bathe His feet with our tears. We did not kneel beside Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove and gaze there upon the Father and the Son. Yet we know all these things and much, much more because we have the scriptural record to enlarge our memory, to teach us what we did not know. And as these things penetrate our minds and hearts, our faith in God and His Beloved Son takes root.
"In the end, the central purpose of all scripture is to fill our souls with faith in God the Father and in His Son, Jesus Christ--faith that They exist; faith in the Father's plan for our immortality and eternal life; faith in the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which animates this plan of happiness; faith to make the gospel of Jesus Christ our way of life; and faith to come to know 'the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [He has] sent' (John 17:3)."
Elder David A. Bednar:
"Testimony is personal knowledge, based upon the witness of the Holy Ghost, that certain facts of eternal significance are true. The Holy Ghost is the messenger for the Father and the Son and the teacher of and guide to all truth (see John 14:26; 16:13). Thus, 'by the power of the Holy Ghost [we] may know the truth of all things' (Moroni 10:5).
"The knowledge and spiritual conviction we receive from the Holy Ghost are the result of revelation. Seeking for and obtaining these blessings require a sincere heart, real intent, and faith in Christ (see Moroni 10:4)."
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:
"I've tried to speak of the redeeming manifestation of love, charity personified, which comes to us through the grace of Christ Himself."
Elder Dallin H. Oaks:
"The first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and faith means trust.
"I testify of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose servants we are, whose Resurrection gives us the assurance of immortality, and whose Atonement gives us the opportunity for eternal life, the greatest of all the gifts of God."
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf:
"The work of patience boils down to this: keep the commandments; trust in God, our Heavenly Father; serve Him with meekness and Christlike love; exercise faith and hope in the Savior; and never give up. The lessons we learn from patience will cultivate our character, lift our lives, and heighten our happiness. They will help us to become worthy priesthood bearers and faithful disciples of our Master, Jesus Christ."
President Henry B. Eyring:
"This evening I remember Him, and it stirs my heart. This is the Saturday night before Easter Sunday, when we remember His Resurrection. I remember His example in the days before.
"Out of love for His Father and for us, He allowed Himself to suffer beyond the capacity of mortal man. He told us some of what that infinite sacrifice required of Him. You remember the words:
" 'For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
" 'But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
" 'Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit--and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink--
" 'Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.'10
"From the cross on Calvary, the Savior announced, 'It is finished.'11 Then His spirit left His body, and His mortal remains were placed lovingly in a tomb. He taught us a lesson by what He did in three days in the spirit world, before His Resurrection, which I remember whenever I am tempted to feel that I have finished some hard task in His service and deserve a rest.
"The Savior's example gives me courage to press on. His labors in mortality were finished, but He entered the spirit world determined to continue His glorious work to save souls. He organized the work of the faithful spirits to rescue those who could still be made partakers of the mercy made possible by His atoning sacrifice."
President Thomas S. Monson:
"Let us follow Jesus Christ, our Lord.
"Never misuse the name of God or Jesus Christ. The Lord said, 'Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.'4
"Our Savior died to provide you and me that blessed gift (of the Holy Ghost)."
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf:
"When I think of the Savior, I often picture Him with hands outstretched, reaching out to comfort, heal, bless, and love. And He always talked with, never down to, people. He loved the humble and the meek and walked among them, ministering to them and offering hope and salvation.
"That is what He did during His mortal life; it is what He would be doing if He were living among us today; and it is what we should be doing as His disciples and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"On this beautiful Easter morning, our thoughts and hearts are drawn to Him--the Hope of Israel and the Light of the World.
"As we emulate His perfect example, our hands can become His hands; our eyes, His eyes; our heart, His heart. ...
"With all my heart and soul I give thanks to our Heavenly Father for His love for us, for the gift of His Son, for the life and example of Jesus the Christ, and for His sinless and selfless sacrifice. I rejoice in the fact that Christ is not dead but risen from the grave! He lives and has returned to the earth to restore His authority and gospel to man. He has given us the perfect example of the kind of men and women we should be."
President Thomas S. Monson:
"No words in Christendom mean more to me than those spoken by the angel to the weeping Mary Magdalene and the other Mary when, on the first day of the week, they approached the tomb to care for the body of their Lord. Spoke the angel:
" 'Why seek ye the living among the dead?
" 'He is not here, but is risen.'12
"Our Savior lived again. The most glorious, comforting, and reassuring of all events of human history had taken place--the victory over death. The pain and agony of Gethsemane and Calvary had been wiped away. The salvation of mankind had been secured. The Fall of Adam had been reclaimed.
"For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."13
Elder Quentin L. Cook:
"As we ponder what it means to be Christians today, think about what our path of discipleship will require of us. I suggest that we contemplate and in appropriate ways emulate what the Savior did in those last two days of His mortal life.
"The Savior's charge to His disciples to love one another--and the dramatic and powerful way He taught this principle at the Last Supper--is one of the most poignant and beautiful episodes from the last days of His mortal life.
"He was not teaching a simple class in ethical behavior. This was the Son of God pleading with His Apostles and all disciples who would come after them to remember and follow this most central of His teachings. How we relate and interact with each other is a measure of our willingness to follow Jesus Christ.
"We follow Jesus Christ."
Elder Neil L. Andersen:
"Each needs his or her own light, his or her own 'steadfast and immovable'7 faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, independent of parents, youth leaders, and supportive friends.
"The stories of Jesus can be like a rushing wind across the embers of faith in the hearts of our children. Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life.'8 The stories of Jesus shared over and over bring faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strength to the foundation of testimony. Can you think of a more valuable gift for our children?
"Are the life and teachings of Jesus Christ embedded in the minds and souls of our children? Do they think about the Savior's life when they wonder what to do in their own lives? This will be more and more important in the years ahead.
"Have our children felt the power of the Savior's miracles? Jesus healed the leper,20 gave sight to the blind.21 He fed the 5,000,22 calmed the sea,23 and raised Lazarus from the dead.24 Do our children believe that 'it is by faith that miracles are wrought,'25 and do they pray for miracles in their own lives?
"Seek to know more about Jesus; open the scriptures.
"As you reverently speak about the Savior--in the car, on the bus, at the dinner table, as you kneel in prayer, during scripture study, or in late-night conversations--the Spirit of the Lord will accompany your words.38
"As you do your best, the testimony of Jesus will gently distill upon your children's hearts. They will go to their Heavenly Father in humble prayer and feel His influence through the power of the Holy Ghost. A stronger personal faith in Jesus Christ will prepare them for the challenges they will most surely face.39
"I testify that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of all mankind. His life, His Atonement, His Resurrection, His awaited return are as sure and certain as the rising sun."