Why Mormonism is not Christianity– the Issue of Christology

While there are many reasons why Evangelical Christians of all stripes might disagree with Mormon theology, perhaps the most important of these is Christology and the related matter of soteriology.

I would encourage you to read carefully through the statement at the link below by a practicing Mormon scholar, presented at Harvard Divinity School a few years ago. Here is the link—http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/what-mormons-believe-about-jesus-christ (in order to actually find this page you will need to do a Google Search of ‘What Mormons believe’ and then scroll down to the entry from 2001 when Millet spoke at Harvard. It has been taken down from the Mormon website).

Please note that these views, as expressed by Mr. Millet are not unusual or eccentric, rather they are typical. While it is true that in some respects, Mormons have more disagreements with Catholics and Orthodox Christians than they do with Evangelicals they certainly have major differences with Evangelicals as well. They could not, for example, in good conscious sign a faith statement that the Evangelical Theological Society might present to them for membership in that society. What are these major differences? Here it will be worth listing just a few in this post:

1) Mormons are polytheists, not monotheists. That is, they believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three separate beings, thus denying the essential monotheistic statements of both the OT and NT that God is One.

2) Mormons, thus, not surprisingly, deny the doctrine of the Trinity, calling it an amalgam of Greek ideas with Biblical ideas. Their basic view is that the original doctrine of God and of the ‘priesthood’ and key ideas about sacrifice, and leadership of the NT era were lost, as the church became entirely apostate and needed to be renewed, and that the NT church was not renewed until Joseph Smith came along in the 19th century (who btw, had an interest in Methodism whilst he was in Palmyra N.Y. and apparently took part in some of the revivals in the ‘Burnt Over District’ there in the first part of the 19th century). Mormons see the ecumenical councils which produced the Nicean creed or the Apostle’s Creed or the Chalcedonian creed as in essence contradictory to what Scripture teaches.

3) Mormons believe that even God the Father has, and apparently, needs a body, denying that God in the divine nature is spirit. Indeed they believe that God the Father is an exalted man!

4) Just as they believe that the early church became apostate, they also believe the Bible as we have it is not inerrant or always truthful and trustworthy, even on major issues like Christology, and therefore needs to be supplemented (and corrected) by subsequent prophetic revelation in documents like the Book of Mormon, or even The Pearl of Great Price.

5) in terms of soteriology, Mormons deny the sufficiency of Christ’s death for salvation. They suggest, as the linked article says, that each of us must do all we can and then trust in the mercy of God. In other words, the de facto position is that Mormonism is to a significant degree a works religion even when it comes to salvation.

6) The goal of Mormon soteriology is that we all become as ‘gods’ become both immortal and divine, blurring the creator/creature distinction which was already badly blurred by a theology that suggested that God is actually a sort of uber-human being, with less flaws. One rather familiar teaching is ‘as God was, so we are. As God is, so we shall be’.

I bring this issue up now, because of the general ignorance of the American public about whether or not Mormons are actually Christians or not. If they really embrace the official positions of their religious group, they are not Christians, though they often present themselves as such, for example, calling their meeting places churches sometimes (but notice— no crosses to be found on top, or worn either).

What of course makes this whole deal slippery is that Mormon doctrine is a constantly evolving thing due to a belief in the living voice of prophecy. For example, the head of the Mormon Church in my lifetime corrected what had previously been taught by Mormonism’s original leaders (e.g. Brigham Young) that black people were the descendents of the least favored race of the big three (Shem, Ham, and Japeth), and as such could not become priests in the Mormon church. Not so, any more.

It is of course true that there are Christians who are a part of the Mormon religion. I would call them confused Christians who know neither church history very well (including the history of the origins of Mormonism in America and the actual origin of the Book of Mormon), nor do they know what the NT actually teaches when it comes to things like Christology and salvation and the nature of the Scriptures.

It is typical of groups like the Mormons (any of the branches) or the Jehovah’s Witness that they are actually split offs from some orthodox Christian group, in both cases from Protestantism. Not surprisingly then, they have more in common with Protestants in some respects than they do with Catholics or the Orthodox, except in regard to the matter of an all male priesthood and therefore the nature of worship.

Mormonism certainly is a highly patriarchal religion, modeled more in its praxis on Leviticus than say on what is said in the NT letters about male and female apostles, prophets, teachers, and this also extends to the Mormon view of the physical family which is far from egalitarian in character.

I am not suggesting for a moment that there aren’t many Mormons that would pass the test of being decent and honest and loving human beings. There are. I know some of them. Nor can one fault their zeal for their form of religion, indeed their missionaries often put actual Christian missionaries to shame. Nor would I suggest that these folks are deliberate deceivers of other people. The ones I know are not. They are sincere and committed to Mormonism, and truly believe it is the true religion.

What I would say is that they are deceived about what the Bible really teaches about the nature of God, of Christ, of salvation, and of true humanity, not to mention the nature of the Scriptures which are indeed the sufficient rule of faith and practice for all true Christians and do not require supplements or corrections from Joseph Smith’s works.

Why have I posted this now? Because of the many times I am asked these days, the question– Can Evangelicals vote for Mitt Romney? I have done a previous post, some time ago for Beliefnet about Mitt Romney in regard to his previous campaigns for high office. I will not repeat that here. I think deciding on who to vote for as President should involve a consideration of many different factors, many different pros and cons of the two candidates.

I think each person must make up their own mind who they will vote for, but the point of this post is that such important decisions should not be made on the basis of false assumptions, and particularly not on the basis of false assumptions about a person’s actual religion.

SPOILER ALERT: THINGS YOU SHOULD NOT SAY IN RESPONSE TO THIS POST

1) ‘You’re just prejudiced, you don’t know what you’re talking about, and that’s just your opinion’.

Wrong. These are the facts. I have taught classes on both world and American religions, and what I have said is based either on what Mormons themselves have said about their beliefs, and/or what their source documents say about the same.

2) ‘This is unkind and untimely. Everyone should have the right to their own religious beliefs and should not be criticized for them. If a person wants to call himself a Christian, then he or she must be a Christian.’

Yes…and no. Yes, a person has an American right to freedom of religion. No, a private individual does not get to decide for themselves what is and isn’t true or is or isn’t orthodox Christianity, and that includes me. Christian beliefs need to match up with what the Bible in fact claims, and what the historic creeds and confessions of the church have understood the Bible to say and mean. Furthermore, even if we were talking about genuine Christian groups, no single group has the authority to add additional books to the sacred canon of Scriptures, whether it be the Book of Mormon or something else. The Bible is both the necessary and sufficient revelation of God and God’s character and God’s will. All three great monotheistic religions recognize the Bible or some part of it as God’s Word. None of them recognize the Book of Mormon as the necessary appendix to the Bible.

3) ‘Aren’t we disputing about words and minor issues here.’

No we are not. The attempt to trivialize important theological issues, and make them a mere dispute about words is frankly an insult to the earliest Christians, many of whom died for their monotheistic and Trinitarian beliefs. Yes indeed, it does matter what the content is of your religious belief.

4) ‘But look at all the energy and zeal and earnestness and deep commitment of Mormons. Isn’t that to be commended?’

Yes and no. Zeal that is not according to knowledge does not honor the real God, and is misguided. Sincerity is not the same thing as true faith. A person can be sincerely wrong, indeed badly wrong however convinced they are of what they believe. So, yes some of these traits are commendable, if they are properly directed and guided and serving the God of the Bible and the good of humankind.’

I could go on, but this is more than enough for you to chew on. Think on these things.

  • Tony Startup

    Response to….Phil Miller says: August 28, 2012 at 11:48 pm
    Sorry, Seth, but I agree with Ben on this one. I’ve had Mormon missionaries insist that I need more after telling them I was a Christian. I don’t know how many of them have tried to insist that I really need to read the Book of Mormon. So I’d say they don’t really consider me a true Christian. That was Joseph Smith’s motive, wasn’t it? He set out to find the “true” church and claimed that Mormonism met that goal.

    Yes Phil…you are a Christian, we want the world to accept our claim because we sincerely say so…we should do likewise. And we do…!!! It just gets lost in over zealous missionaries. As long as your knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ, and you do your best to emulate Him…you most certainly will spend eternity in His presence. Nevertheless, the missionary message goes beyond that….the Elders or Sisters will explain it if you ask.

  • Tony Startup

    Last paragraph got left out…my apologies to Ben and the readers……

    The proper interpretation of all 4 of these scriptures is literal. No big secret, God is our Father spiritually and literally ……and He prefers the title of Father more than any other.

  • PJB

    I realised this was going to be a distorted view in the opening paragraphs, that the Mormon church removed Robert Milet’s comments from their website implying that he spoke out of turn and the Mormon church wanted distance from these comments, but then the link on the Mormon website is given!

    You are funny!

  • Ben Witherington

    If you try to go to the Mormon website directly, you will receive a message that the Millet piece doesn’t exist or can’t be accessed any more. You can only find it by going to Google and doing a Google search and finding the old link. BW3

  • Fred Kratz

    If you go to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints website, and search for Robert Millet, nine articles come up. One of those is the article referenced in your piece. Nothing hidden, nothing lost.

  • Ben Witherington

    First of all, thank you to all you have taken the time to respond. It’s time for us to move on. I appreciate the respectful tenor of many of these comments which proves that it is possible to have a discussion with someone we profoundly disagree with, without being ornery. A few final points in response to some questions and comments: 1) Kent, my motivation for doing this was simple— there is a lot of muddy and distorted thinking in America about what it takes to be and what amounts to being a Christian, or even what the essential non-negotiable beliefs of Christians are. I have no problems with people who say Mitt Romney is a devout Mormon and I’m voting for him. That’s fine. This post was not intending to secretly support or blacken either Presidential candidate. I am simply saying that the Presidential race gives us the opportunity to have an honest discussion about whether Mormonism is a legitimate form of orthodox Christianity or not. In my view it is not, but others will differ. That’s o.k. 2) my other over-riding concern was about honesty about what the Bible does and does not say, compared to LDS doctrine including what the Book of Mormon says. Let’s take the issue Tony Startup raised at the end in response to what I have said about John 4. He wants to claim that John 4 does not mean that ‘God is Spirit’ it merely means something about spiritual worship, or the like. Actually it clearly says and means both these things. There are no Greek manuscripts that I know of which don’t have the words ‘God is spirit’ in them. Since Tony was insisting on literalism, that means one thing to an early Jew— God the Father was not corporeal at any point. In God’s essence God is spirit— a non-material being. God unlikely human beings, has no need of a body now or ever. And here is where the honesty issue comes into play. You cannot hide behind the old canard ‘that’s just a bad translation’ when in fact the Greek is univocal and clear. Nothing can be theologically true that is based on historical falsehood about what the Greek text actually says and means. If we are going to have an honest dialogue, then we all have to come to grips with the same fact, and that fact includes that every translation including the KJV is a human act, and there are flaws in the translations, including in the one Joseph Smith (or whoever) used to compose the Book of Mormon. These are the historical facts. We have to go back to the original languages, the original Jewish contexts etc. to understand the meaning of the words of the Bible. Most Mormon scholars that I know would agree with this. Perhaps we will be able to have a meaningful dialogue down the road on this blog between a Mormon NT scholar and myself on differences of interpreting the Greek text. That would be interesting and possibly a blessing. In the meanwhile I say, the Lord bless you and keep you and lead you all into God’s truth, the truth that is the basis of NT Christianity then, and now. BW3

  • Ben Witherington

    Hi Fred: I must say I am bewildered by your comment. What I get when I go there is ‘access no longer available to this article’. I have to go to an older link to find it. In any case it doesn’t matter. It’s an article worth reading. BW3

  • Fred Kratz

    It is in the “Newsroom” section of their website mormonnewsroom.org, sixth article down. Just FYI.

  • Emlyn

    Yes Ben, I just tried the link and went straight to the page. It’s a strange thing the internet!

    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/what-mormons-believe-about-jesus-christ

  • Rev. Stephen Becker

    @bhodi–I joined the cult in the mid 1990′s right here in Sacramento. My wife and I joined together. We were members of the Valley Hi Ward in Sacramento, where, shortly after my own endowment (and sealiing to my wife) where I was ‘called’ to be Ward Mission Leader. I personally baptized dozens of Christians into the cult. I am thankful to God that He has forgiven me for this sin. In any event, we later then moved just south of Sacramento to Elk Grove, moving from the Sacramento Stake to the Elk Grove Stake, being members of the Vintage Park Ward. It was at this time I was asked to move into the Stake Mission Presidency. It was at the end of this time that I left Mormonism. I went through name removal in 2002–the same year I started seminary. As I said, I know what I’m talking about.

  • Rev. Stephen Becker

    Oh and yes, I am serving at the same church where I attended as a boy, and later fell away from as I joined the Mormon cult. Imagine God’s goodness, that as He called me out of the cult, called me to go to seminary, and then He called me back to the same church I was at, as a boy. With Mormonism being the #2 religion in the greater Sacramento area, and with Mormonism specifically targeting the conversion of Christians, what a unique perspective I have in my ministry. I can truly call myself an expert, and can say, “been there, done that!” Soli Deo Gloria.

  • Stephen

    Rev. SB – Thanks for your insights. May God use you as an inspiration to others.

  • Jeff

    Interesting article. Unfortunately, I can’t find a definition of christian in the article? Certainly, the article is convincing that Mormons are not evangelical christians. That’s a reasonable conclusion. However, differing Christology alone seems to suggest that Mormons are simply a different kind of Christian than evangelicals. Your interpretation of what that means is, of course, up to you.

    Also, Mormons are not polytheists. They are monolatrous. It’s a subtle difference, but it is a difference.

  • Captain DG

    Without doubt Mormons are not Christians in the orthodox meaning of the word. But most people do not live words as ‘terms of art.’ They take meaning as it comes in daily life. In this sense the word Christian might be taking on a meaning that includes Mormons. This is not be to your liking, and is not theologically precise, yet might be happening just the same. (At this time I will put a plug in for the Catholic church, Christian since the beginning :-)

  • Noel

    Mormons often quote one of their earlier prophets, President Snow who said “As man is God once was, as God is man may become” This means God we have has a father and a grandfather etc and according to hymn writer, Eliza Snow a wife also.(Truth is reason, Truth eternal, tells me I have a mother there” from hymn “Oh My Father” If one keeps going backwards there must be a “the God” who has always existed. Eteternla progression just does not make sense. This along with other teachings gives Ben good reason to reject LDS as Christian

  • http://church-discipline.blogspot.com CD-Host

    About a year ago I wrote a defense for yes case Mormonism as Hermetic Christianity. I think it reasonable to consider Mormonism as a Christian like religion.

    I have two main objections to your position. (1) I think far too many of your points are arguments that Mormons aren’t evangelicals. Lots of Christian sects (a majority?) deny sola fide. Lots of Christian sects deny inerrancy, heck the majority of Christians would deny Protestants even have the right canon much less an inerrant bible. So I think those criteria don’t belong in this essay.

    (2) Your stronger objection is the fuzzy line between creator and creation in which I think you may be oversimplifying Mormon doctrine a bit to try and present it in a more negative light. Most Mormons would deny that God the Father is human in a biological. “As man now is, God once was” is not the same as saying God the Father is human. I had chicken tonight for dinner. I am going to spend the evening and tomorrow deconstructing that chicken protein into amino acids and then recombining those amino acids to form human proteins. That does not imply that I believe there is no distinction between human and chicken proteins nor that there is no distinction between humans and chickens.

  • Alan Arns

    One thing is clear by this exchange. The Mormons are not going to back down and it doesn’t seem like anything fazes them.

  • Bhodi

    Rev. Becker (sorry, did not realize you were not a Dr.) your story is technically plausible, but seems unlikely. If you want to claim it, however, that is certainly your right to do so. Your continue reference to “cult” is incorrect though. Most often than not people use “cult” when they really mean “group I do not agree with”, and it is silly to use an overly emotional term because of dislike. A technical term would be more useful.

  • Rev. Stephen Becker

    @ Bhodi… lol. I shared your comments with a class I taught today. My story isn’t plausible. It’s the truth. I could even send you a copy of my last Temple Recommend. If all you can do is to attack me is to try to convince people that I wasn’t really a Mormon, then you are reaching. To anybody reading this, to make matters simple, what I stated in my other comments is entirely the truth. I spent six years deeply involved in Mormonism. I was a convert to the Mormon cult at the age of 28. I left at age 34, and enrolled in seminary at age 35. Today, I serve as Pastor of the same Lutheran Church where I attended as a boy with my parents. It is the simple truth.

    And yes, I am a Dr. I earned a Ph.D. My dissertation title is “Martin Lutheran and the Role of Anfechtung in the Twenty-First Century Christian Education of the Youth of the Church.” In fact, my proper title, is the Rev. Dr. Stephen Becker. Please however, simply address me as Pastor Becker. Because that is who I am and what I do. But this whole silly point of Bhodi’s is entirely besides the point and is trying to take us away from the point. By the way Bhodi, who are you and what do you have to do with Mormonism? What makes you an expert? Are you a Mormon? What do you know about the Mormon Church (please spare us your testimony).

    Bhodi, a cult is a cult is a cult. Mormonism, just like Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many of the other Pseudo-Christian cults, fit the “classic definition” of a cult–it attacks Salvation by Grace through Faith, it inserts works into Jesus’ statement from the cross of “It is Finished,” it complicates salvation, which is not complicated (I believe, thus I am saved), it tears apart the Trinity, thus destroying God, and it inserts external non-Biblical teachings where they are not needed.

    So I leave you with a final question: HOW ARE YOU JUSTIFIED? By that, I mean, how is it that you will live with God the Father forever? You do believe that you will live with God the Father forever, correct? Please simply answer this question. If you cannot, or do so by trying to attack me and my credentials, which I have assured you are correct, then one of two things: you don’t know the true theology of the Mormon Church of Salt Lake or, if you do, you do not wish to reveal to us the non-Christian nature of the cult. HOW ARE YOU JUSTIFIED? Looking forward to your answer.

    Pastor Stephen Becker (formerly Elder Becker)

  • jcb

    This link gives perhaps the most accurate portrayal of the facts of this matter. ’nuff said.
    http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/are-mormons-christians-witherington-says-no/

  • Tiberius

    I find it interesting that almost every person on this blog making a case for Mormonism being Christian really never addressed directly any of Dr. Witherington’s points as to why it is not orthodox Christianity. There were numerous diversions. Where is the discussion on the trinity and Scripture? The continual diversions speak for themselves. The Bible remains.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Jews and Muslims regard Christians as polytheists because the Nicene Creed asserts specifically that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are BOTH three persons AND one substance. It is an assertion of two statements that are directly contradictory in any human language. Mormons assert, with other Christians, that they are three separate persons. And like some Protestants, including theologians who support the cobcept if the Openness of God, they believe that the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a unity of mutual love and common purpose, consistent with Christ’s great intercessory prayer, asking the Father that his disciples would be united with Christ in the same way that Christ is unified with the Father. This concept of the Trinity is common enough to have its own customary name, the Social Trinity, which is held by many Protestants.

    The more fundamental disagreement that Latter-day Saints have with the Nicene Creed is in its adoption of Greek concepts if tge nature if God which are inconsistent with the Bible. The idea that God has no body directly contradicts the clear teaching of tge New Testament that God the Son ascended into heaven in his resurrected, physical body, bearing the marks of nails through his hands and feet and a sword in his side. How can Christ have a body so strenuouslynand victoriously resurrected, and the Trinity contain NO BODY?

    While Evangelical ministers insist that belief in the Nicene Creed is a prerequisitenfor truebChristianity, how many of them stop a person coming forward at abrevival to test them on their ability to recite the creed, let alone demonstrate they actually understand irs content, before they are accepted and (maybe) baptism? How many Protestants actually could pass a test of artuculating the concept without fallng into a heresy like modalism?

    Remember also that the Orthodox version of the Trinity is different enough from the Catholic/Protestant version that it caused the schism of the Eastern and Western churches. Are both versions acceptable, so that there is not one true version? Or are you trying to excludentge Orthodox from Chrustianity?

    Speaking of the Orthodox, my Japanese mother was raised in the Russian Orthodox Church, which taught quite openly that the destiny of the saved is to become like God. Everything the Orthodox teach about the doctrine if Theosis comes rightnfrom the Bible, and from the Church Fathers of the Firstnthrough Third centuries. “God became man so that man can become God” is a formula first offered by Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon. Like the Mormons, the Orthodox believe that theosis is a miracle that is wrought by God through the power of Christ’s atonementnand grace. It is a doctrine that was taught by tge earliest Christians, a true doctrine, and Protestantbrejection of theosis is a rejection of an indisputably ancient teaching of Christ and the apostles, one that predates the Coincil of Nicea. Protestants who rejectntheosis as a core concept in salvation are rejecting the Christianity of Peter, Paul and John. Bragging about their rejection demonstrates their theological amnesia.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    By the way, the illustration with this article, of the resurrected Christbstepping from the tomb, is a painting by Simon Dewey, a Mormon, who has painted manybdepictiobs from the life of Christ. As you can see from his painting, he is a worshipoer of Jesus and believes he us the rwsurrected Son of God, just lije all Mormons.

    I am a Mormon, baptized in the name if the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Every Sunday I take tge Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of his atoning sacrifice whichnsaves me, and promise to always remember his sacrifice and love for me, and his commandment to show my lve for God by loving my neighbor. I show my faith by mynworks. My works of obedience are motivated by gratitude for the overwhelming gift Christ gave me, whichnI can never repay, but which I can share.

    Frankly, I find your assertion that I don’t quite look at Jesus from the precisely correct angle as a little arrigant on your part, to claim that you have a spigot tgat controls Christ’s love and his grace.

  • Tony Startup

    It’s like going full circle…!! This well written article and the many comments with conflicting opinions…..lo here and lo there……this is the whole point of Joseph Smith. This is how the church started…!!! Joseph Smith and his family struggled to join a church in 1820 with the many Christian revivals competing in the area (upper state NY). Joseph read this scripture in James… “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all [men] liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” James 1:5 Joseph lacked wisdom so he ask God to help him and answer his prayer. The rest is history. Ben would probably know, I think the most prevalent topic or theme in the NT is prayer. A quick computer search shows me 334 passages (just in the NT) in some form deal with the topic of prayer or praying! A good lesson for all of us is to check our egos and worldly learning at the bedroom door, get on our knees and trust in God. Thank you Ben.

  • Rockgod28

    The Teachings of Jesus Christ from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

    Please view the videos of the Sermon on the Mount:

    http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4A73DDEE675FBC39&feature=plcp

    The Beatitudes:

    “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. REJOICE! And be exceedingly glad for great is your reward in heaven. For so persecuted they the prophets before you…”

    The Higher Law:

    “I say unto you love your enemies. Bless them that curse you. Do good to them that hate you. And pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven. For he maketh the sun to rise on the evil and the good. And sendeth rain upon the just and the unjust. … Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

    The Lord’s Prayer:

    Pray to the Father. Jesus teaches why and how we are to pray.

    Treasures in Heaven:

    “Therefore all things whatsoever that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. For this is the law and the prophets.”

    These are the teachings of Jesus Christ and they are to lift us up.

    I am saved by the grace and blood of Jesus Christ who died for me. He has blessed me more than I deserve.

    I will keep his commandments. To love one another. To stand as a witness that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

    Peace be unto you. May the peace of Christ find you and be upon your homes, families and friends.

    There is a God in Heaven and he answers our prayers.

    While we disagree, we can still be brothers in Christ, fellow citizens, even friends as we follow the teachings of the Master.

    Can we agree to pray together for God to pour out his spirit upon us? To be obedient to His commandments, follow our Savior’s teachings and love one another.

    If we do this there will be peace in the land, prosperity for each other, harmony in our hearts and the blessings of heaven will be poured out upon us all.

    I am a Latter Day Christian. You are a traditional Christian. What do we have in common?

    The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    While we do not agree on the Trinity and other doctrinal points such as the creeds, can’t we agree on the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

    His words are there in the New Testament which we all believe to be true.

    Let us do good to all, not just our friends, but all people as Jesus taught us.

    We can be fellow citizens and united in the good news of Jesus Christ that he is the redeemer and savior of the world. Do we have to be traditional Christians for us to work together? Are we not on the same side? The Lord’s side.

    In my community I will reach out and strive to work will my fellow men and women in my area to follow the example of Jesus Christ and his teachings. It will not be easy. My work takes me out of town frequently, but I have goals and work to do of the Lord. To share his message from the New Testament and testify that he lives and loves us by service.

    You might be surprised to find how willing the LDS Church would be to work together to go about the Master’s business. To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and all that the Redeemer has asked us to do.

    May God, our Father which art in Heaven, bless us to do the work our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has commanded us to do.

    In the Holy name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

  • Bhodi

    Rev. Becker, it is again entirely possible that you did bring up my comments in your class, but it is again, unlikely. My comments posted at roughly 7 your time, so unless you were sitting by your computer waiting for comments at 7, which would be odd, it is likely you saw them after the fact. This, like much, is likely poetic license. Your Doctorate is certainly real, in that you have a diploma on the wall, but it is from a non-accredited distance learning program. This is a disturbing phenomenon almost exclusively within the Evangelical Christian world, you rarely (I never have, but it could happen I suppose) see a Catholic or Orthodox with an unaccredited degree, and I suspect most are unaware how bad it actually makes the movement look.

    That being said, it is far less likely that you were the devout and striving Mormon for 6 years that suddenly left in a day. Likely you followed the same pattern that adherents of almost all faith do, where you are devout for a period, less for a period, non-observant for a period, and then leave officially. I suspect your story is far more Ergun Caner than it is Gospel truth.

    As for your question, ” HOW ARE YOU JUSTIFIED? By that, I mean, how is it that you will live with God the Father forever?”, it has no meaning. This question is a product of a post-Reformation 20th century Christianity, which is certainly a large movement, though somewhat declining, but can hardly hope to represent the whole of Christianity through the theological lens of what is a relatively small contingent. If you stepped off the plane in Syria and walked into a Christian community ans asked the same question in Arabic, they would have no idea what you are talking about. The same if you did so in Jerusalem in 50AD. Your metric of a stance on salvation in accordance with the grace/works debate is likewise a product of the modern era, and would exclude most historical Christians.

    Mormons are an interesting and somewhat unique sect of Christianity, and certainly not without their flaws and idiosyncrasies, but their exclusion from Christianity because of a set of criteria that would have even excluded the nascent movement for several centuries after its creation in Palestine is as fallacious as it is unfair.

  • Stephen

    Bhodi – On what grounds do you have for thinking Rev. Becker is making up his past? Just because you don’t agree with him?

    I assume your answer to his question would have been revealing and that is why you side-stepped it.

  • Jennifer

    This is an interesting piece about the Latter-day Saint religion, commonly known as the Mormon religion, of which I have been a member for over 30 years. Surprisingly, most of what he says in describing LDS beliefs are accurate but none of his points truly indicate that LDS people are not Christians. Not believing in the concept of the trinity does not automatically disqualify a person as a nonbeliever in Christ. Latter-day Saints (Mormons) do in fact believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the World, the only Begotten Son of God the Father and that following Him and his teachings from the Bible are THE ONLY way that anyone can return to live with God after our mortal lives on earth are finished. If this doesn’t meet the definition of a Christian, then no self-declared Christian, no matter what their proclaimed religious affiliation would qualify as a Christian. Yes, Mormons believe that you must live a righteous life, one in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ in order to be saved, you cannot simply be saved if you don’t put forth the effort to live a life of good works, integrity and loving kindness in addition to also accepting Christ as your personal Savior and living as best as you can as an example of his perfect life. Simply put, you can’t live a life of unrepentant sin and expect to be saved by grace alone.

    Quite frankly, I don’t see how other Christian sects can stand by the trinity concept as agreed upon in the dawn of the dark ages (a historically dark intellectual and spiritually apostate period) by the Nicene Council, when the bible clearly states that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. How can He be both the Father and the Son unless they are two distinct beings. LDS people believe the Bible’s proclamation that God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ and the third member of the Godhead the Holy Ghost are “one” in spirit and purpose but are in fact three separate beings. The bible tells us to be one with Christ just as He and the Father are one, in spirit (John 17:21), as it’s physically impossible to be one in body with Christ. The trinity concept just doesn’t make sense. There are tons of biblical scripture affirming the doctrine that God does in fact have a physical body, separate from the body of his Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit. A quick search in the KJV provides the following truths: Gen 1:26 “God said, Let “us” make man in our image”. Not only does this scripture imply that God has a body, and that body is like our body, but it also implies that there was more than one present at the creation of Adam’s physical body. Gen 1:27, Gen 5:1, Gen 9:6 all state God created man in his own image. How can we look like God if he has no body? Gen 32:30 states that Jacob (aka Israel) saw God “face to face” and in Exodus 31:18 Moses receives the 10 commandments on tablets of stone written by the “finger” of God. On Christ being separate physically from God, 2 Cor. 4:4 states Christ was made in the image of God. God tells us in Matt 3:17 that Jesus is his Son and he is well pleased at his example of baptism and in the preceding verse a separate being, the Holy Ghost, descends in the form of a dove. In these two verses alone, all three members of the Godhead are separate and distinctly present at the same time and NOT in the same being. Luke 3:22 confirms the separate and distinct appearance of both the Holy Ghost and God the Father at Christ’s baptism. I could go on but I will stop here as it is not my intention to come off as being contentious, rude, or offensive in any way. I just want to clarify why LDS people believe what we believe and that we aren’t making this stuff up, it is stated in the bible in multitude and the Nicene Creed just doesn’t jive with it.

  • Jennifer

    I forgot to post comments about the original point of this article. Frankly, the point the author was trying to make is that evangelicals should think twice about voting for Romney solely based upon the fact their they may not believe the same fundamental Christian truths as Romney (a Latter-day Saint) believes. I have to say that this line of reasoning alone should not be used to determine who you vote for. If evangelicals are aligned with traditional conservative values such as the ones that are normally associated with the Republican party, then voting for a Mormon republican candidate will most certainly align your religious values with your policital views much more closely than voting for any liberal candidate. Even if you can’t reconcile your religious differences with Romney, please examine carefully the socialist implications and perilous economic consequences of voting for four more years of Obama.

  • Rev. Stephen Becker

    Bhodi-How are you justified?

  • Tim McGuire

    Kevin Bywater turns this on its head and asks “Aren’t Christians Mormon, too?” http://www.kevinbywater.com/?p=523

  • Jeff

    You can be a Christian and believe that the Trinity is made up of three beings or persons. Let us not say they are personalities now, that wuold be Modalism. The oneness aspect can be explained by an analogy to nature – the triple point of water – At a certain temperature and pressure H2O exists as ice, steam, and water simultaneously.

    So one would simply say all that is there is H2O, yet they can also say there is also ice, steam, and water

  • Tony Startup

    In response to……Rev. Stephen Becker says: August 30, 2012 at 11:02 am……who keeps asking “How are you justified?”
    Mormons believe in justification like all christian churches…..through faith in Christ. This answer may surprise many, on the day Joseph Smith organized the church, April 6th 1830 he wrote the following recorded in Mormon scripture…..
    D&C 20:29 – 31
    29 And we know that all men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and worship the Father in his name, and endure in faith on his name to the end, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.
    30 And we know that justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true;
    31 And we know also, that sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength.

    Written the day the church was organized…!!! Those words are appropriate in any christian church in the world and would make a good Sunday talk.

  • Karen Booth

    Here’s a really interesting blog commentary about a Mormon scholar’s conversion to the Roman Catholic Church. He brings out several of the same concerns that Dr. Witherington did.

    http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2012/08/a-mormon-scholarrsquos-journey-to-catholic-faith,

  • Karen Booth

    Here are several quotes from the above mentioned commentary to whet your appetite.

    Regarding Mormon belief in the “great apostasy:”

    “There simply was no evidence of a fundamental break from the church Jesus established. As one of Mormonism’s most brilliant minds of the last half century, Edwin Firmage, wrote after he left the LDS Church: ‘The idea that God was sort of snoozing until 1820 now seems to me absurd.’

    Two passages from the Gospel of Matthew are particularly difficult to reconcile with the Mormon doctrine of the great apostasy. Jesus promised Peter that “the gates of the netherworld” would not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16) and he promised the Apostles that he would be with the Church until the end of the age (Matthew 28).”

    And regarding the doctrine that God is an “exalted” man:

    “A limited God cannot be our anchor in the face of extreme horrors or profound personal loss. In the face of terrible, inexplicable loss, Job did not place his trust in an ‘exalted man.’ The God who spoke to Job did not start out on a world like ours. This God, who comforted Job and comforts millions of others every day, to whom we can truly pray ‘not my will but yours be done,’ cannot be the limited being Mormons call ‘god.’”

  • http://www.kevinbywater.com Kevin James Bywater

    Summit Ministries has just published a piece on whether Christians may vote for Mormons (http://www.kevinbywater.com/?p=707). Enjoy!

  • Todd

    Ben-

    This is a really interesting article. I think it would be a lot of fun to chat with you sometime on the subject. Mostly I would be interested in seeing the scriptural foundation you have for points 1-6, with the perspective that the Mormon view is errant. For example, you say that “Mormons deny the sufficiency of Christ’s death for salvation.” Do you believe that everybody will be saved, regardless of their repentance of their sins? The scriptures indicate that not everybody will be saved (see John 5:29 for an example). Why are some saved and some not? The Mormon perspective is that repentance is required, or else you are fully exposed to the laws of justice. This is supported by NT verses like Phil. 2:12.

    Anyway, since it is hard to have a legitimate conversation like that on blogs, I’d be interested in chatting with you in some other medium – and not with the intent of trying to convince you of my point of view, but just discussing it. Let me know.

  • http://www.ldsreligionandscience.wordpress.com Gary Carlson

    Ben,
    As best I can tell in my Bible the first men to see Jesus Christ besides his stepfather, Joseph, were the shepherds. Wise men with the education to use big words like came much later. The gospel that Jesus taught in his maturity was simple enough to be understood by shepherds. The hard part was giving up worldly things like pride and wealth to follow him.
    I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and your attempt to deny my Christianity saddens and baffles me. Where does the Bible authorize or encourage you to do such a thing? Your article makes me wish you could accompany me on a visit to one of those shepherds who saw the angel and the Christ child so he could help us work out our disagreement about my claim to be a Christian. I think it might go like this:
    Shepherd: Why are you here”
    Gary (me): Ben says I’m not a Christian. I say I am.
    Shepherd: What do you believe about Christ?
    Gary: That he is the Son of God, born of Mary, that when he was ready he began preaching. We have a little of what He said in the New Testament—love your neighbor and all those things. And we have His example in living what he preached. I believe he is the Savior of the world, my Savior if I have faith in Him and keep His commandments. He died on the cross for my sins and was resurrected and joined His Father in Heaven. I can repent and be forgiven because he atoned for my sins.
    Shepherd: So, Ben what do you think of Christ?
    Ben: (your words here)
    Shepherd: Then, why do you say Gary isn’t a Christian?
    Ben: Many reasons. One is that He has the wrong soteriology.
    (The shepherd looks perturbed, raises his staff like he might want to smack Ben alongside the head, but sheepishly regains control of himself.)
    Shepherd: What?
    Ben: He has an incorrect idea about how Christ saves us.
    Shepherd: What else?
    Ben: He doesn’t believe the doctrine of the trinity?
    Shepherd: What doctrine is that?
    Ben: That the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one being.
    Shepherd: Are you saying that when I saw the Christ child with his mother, Mary, there was no God in heaven?
    Ben: Its more complicated than that.
    Shepherd: What do you say about Ben’s objections, Gary?
    Gary: They are accurate statements of differences in our beliefs, but I think Ben has an odd idea of what makes one a Christian. My understanding of the early disciples’ beliefs is that they evolved over time as they learned more. They didn’t seem to have a clue about Christ’s resurrection until they saw Him with their own eyes. Ben’s definition of a Christian might leave you out as you left the manger to spread the good news and Peter as he was at the time of the crucifixion. Correct doctrine is important but anyone who has enough faith in Christ to follow his example of love and sacrifice is a Christian for me.
    Shepherd: It was nice talking with you boys. I think you each know what Paul taught about charity and I hope you think of that as you try to work this out. I have to go along to my Book of Mormon class now.

  • Pastor S. Becker

    In clarification to my question “HOW ARE YOU JUSTIFIED,” I would be interested in hearing how all the Mormons who have chimed in to this blog would answer a couple of very simple questions, which I believe are relevant:

    1. If a person dies without being a Member of the Mormon Church, will s/he live with God the Father forever?

    2. If an endowed Mormon, who lives all of the “laws and ordinances” of the Gospel, as revealed through Mormon prophets, dies without being sealed in the temple to a husband or wife, will s/he live with God the Father forever?

    3. Will I, an ex-Mormon, who was once a baptized, endowed, and sealed to his wife for time and all eternity Mormon, but who left the church and formally went through name removal, but today live a good, righteous life, who tries to do as many good deeds as possible, live in heaven with God the father forever.

    Will any Mormons care to directly answer these questions for me. I’m even happy if you just number them (1, 2, 3), with a simple “yes,” or “no.”

    These questions and their answer are the crux of the matter.

    Blessings to all.

    Pastor Becker

  • Pastor S. Becker

    Question for Tony Startup says: August 30, 2012 at 3:36 pm “Mormons believe in justification like all christian churches…..through faith in Christ.”

    Tony, I have had Mormon teenage missionaries tell me that at my door for years. So I’ll ask you the same question I’ve asked them (they can’t seem to answer): What about those people who don’t have faith in Jesus? What happens to them? Specifically, will those who do not have “faith in Christ” be resurrected? Saved? Or do they go to hell? What happens to those who do not have faith in Jesus?

    Please directly answer.

  • Bhodi

    The problem is that I do not think the question is being asked correctly, but with respect to being justified the technical answer is that effort is required. Those who make no effort in their lives who simply pay lip service, are examples of dead faith, which is what James meant when he said Faith without Works is dead. The dichotomy that most place between faith and works is invalid. When people say that “My faith has saved me” this does not mean that their belief is sufficient, if nothing has changed in their lives.

  • https://mormonscriptureexplorations.wordpress.com/ Bill Hamblin

    The simple biblical definition of what is a Christian can be found in Matthew 16:15-17

    15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

    While Evangelicals would like to add all sorts of additional requirements to those given by Christ himself, by this straightforward biblical definition, Mormons are most certainly Christians.

    This definition, by the way, also has the additional benefit of distinguishing Muslims from Christians; Muslims accept Jesus as the Christ/Messiah, but reject the idea that he is the Son of God.

  • http://espliego.wordpress.com/ cantueso

    Thank you very much!
    That was very well done. I do not have the formation nor the patience to figure these things out, but was shocked by Joseph Smith’s CV, the story of those plates, their translation, the sacred stones, crudely surrealistic, as if invented by another Salvador Dalí.

    The white stovepipe hat! Since English is not my native language, instead of looking up what that could be, I tried to imagine it according to its name.

  • Bhodi

    Pastor/Rev Becker, perhaps the problem is that you feel qualified to tell others their salvation. I personally do not.

  • Gregory A. Swarthout
  • David Garmon

    I write to bring out a neglected passage of scripture that would have proved useful in the article by Mr. Witherington. The LDS doctrine surrounding the nature of God the Father can be found in the first pages of the Old Testament account of Genesis. If we cite the book of John in the NT as authoritative, how could we possibly neglect the Genesis account, authored by Moses as revealed to him by God? I cite Genesis chapter 1, verse 26: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” What clearer declaration from the mouth of the Father Himself could establish the corporeal nature of God? Additionally, the Genesis account is recorded in the plural voice: “Let us make man in our own image” To say that the doctrine of a separate Father and Son, and Their embodied state, is without scriptural basis would be misleading. Joseph Smith performed a translation of the Bible himself–while this was never published in his life time, and others may reject its authenticity, it is useful to mention the rendering of John 4:24 as he translated it. The verse reads thus: “For unto such hath God promised his Spirit. And they who worship him, must worship in spirit and in truth.” Joseph Smith has also left the world his own testimony, given at the young age of 14, regarding the visitation to him of God the Father and Jesus Christ, the Risen and Resurrected Lord. He stated that both appeared to him as separate, glorified, embodied individuals–the very Creators of humanity.

  • Ben Witherington

    Hi David:

    Thanks for this. Three problems: 1) you are assuming that the word image refers to physical form. Wrong. When we are told in the NT that we are already being conformed to the image of Christ it has nothing to do with our physical form or his. It has to do with sanctification, a moral conformity to his image. 2) the reference to ‘us’ is taken by Biblical scholars, both Jews and Christians as a reference to God talking with his heavenly court namely the angels. This is why for example in Psalm 8 humans are said to have been made but a little lower than the angels. The reference is not likely to be the Trinity, and even if it was, why would it refer to a physical form of anyone. God had no such form then. The Spirit had no such form then. And the pre-existent Son of God had no such form then. So your interpretation of that is impossible. 3) I would like to think that the mistranlation of John 4 by Joseph Smith, which has no basis at all in the Greek text of that chapter in any Greek manuscript, was simply a mistake. But I doubt it. It appears to me to be a deliberate mistranslation to support a preconceived notion, namely Smith could not possibly admit that God was spirit, without material form, or else a lot of his other ideas would fall down like a house of cards. Sorry, but you are wrong.

    Blessings anyway, BW3

  • David Garmon

    Mr. Witherington, your reply to my initial comment is valuable to illustrate how readers might evaluate your original article itself, that is, by recognizing it as evaluating a body of beliefs in light of commonly or personally held definitions, notions, or scholarly opinions. As for the use of the word “image” I would simply state that Moses, the same man who recorded the Genesis account, later tells us in unequivocal terms that he spoke to God “face to face” as one man speaks to his friend. Moses faced God, and God in turn faced Moses. They looked at one another and God spoke to Moses. There are many other Old and New Testament scriptures that directly establish the corporeal nature of God the Father–the account of Stephen, who saw the Son of the right hand of the Father; he saw two distinct beings, and Christ stood at the right hand of His glorified Father. Moses later warned the Israelites against worshiping gods of wood and stone, “which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.” (Deut. 4:28) He records this to draw a clear contrast between lifeless idols and the living, embodied God in whose likeness humanity was created. You cite Biblical scholars of Christianity and Judaism as holding that angels are the object of the “us” referrred to in Genesis. I would ask how else could these scholars interpret the text, given that their creeds/teachings prevent them from even considering that humanity is created in the literal image of God? You ask in your comment why the reference would refer to “a physical form of anyone” and then proceed by dismissing that aspect of Genesis almost by default. We must simply disagree. As for the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, it was not an exercise in reviewing original documents. The Bible passed through multiple compilations, translations, and revisions, through multiple centuries and languages. Those of the LDS faith believe that Joseph Smith received revelation on Biblical passages that had been withdrawn, incorrectly translated, or otherwise misrepresented. While I recognize that he is not universally acknowledged as a prophet and spokesman for God, I am grateful for the clarification his teachings provide.

  • Ben Witherington

    Hi David: I’m not talking about commonly held opinions. I’m talking about being able to read the text in its original languages, and in this case— Hebrew. Let’s take that phrase that you mention Moses spoke to God ‘face to face’. This is the same God who told Moses he was not allowed to see God’s face! Your problem is that you insist on taking idiomatic and metaphorical phrases as if they were literal. Face to face communication in Exodus means the same thing it does today— intimate conversation. It does not mean Moses saw God’s literal face! Let me give you another example. When the Hebrew talks about God being angry (and in English translations it is often rendered God was angry) what the text literally says is ‘and God’s nose burned’. Do you honestly think the writer of the Bible was saying God got red in the face? Of course not. What you need to learn to do is learn when the language is figurative and when it is literal. If you interpret figurative and idiomatic uses of language literally you have in fact distorted the meaning Moses (and God had in mind). That’s just as bad as interpreting literal language as if it were purely metaphorical (for example when the NT says Jesus died on the cross it does not mean Jesus fell asleep on the cross, even though the term ‘sleep’ is sometimes used in early Judaism as a euphemism for death. Seriously David, if you love the Bible which is God’s Word, then you need to learn how to read, learning how to tell the difference between literal phrases and figurative phrases. Blessings, Ben W.

  • Ben Witherington

    P.S. David I am also sorry to tell you that you (and Joseph Smith) are quite wrong about the process which led to Joseph Smith’s translation. In fact, he made his ‘translation’ largely based on the King James Version, not on the basis of new revelation God. This is precisely why it often sounds word for word in English like the KJV, even though the KJV is often based on very later Greek and Hebrew manuscripts which we now know do not preserve the original readings of the Biblical text. TODAY, we even have Greek manuscripts that date back to the second century A.D.— for example p 46, and other such texts. Guess what? They do not agree with various of the readings in Joseph Smith’s ‘translation’. Anyone who is a student of the Greek NT knows that we now have some 5,000 manuscripts, in part or whole of the Greek NT, and that the manuscripts that were the basis of the KJV (and Joseph Smith’s translation) are later and less accurate. BTW, there are various Mormon NT scholars that know and accept this fact. Blessings, Ben W.


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