Mormons as Protestants

Between the recent conference on Methodists and Mormons and the events of my own week, I have been left pondering the question: should Mormons be categorized as Protestants?

This week at Casper College our annual humanities festival focused on sin. On Thursday night, there was a panel on the issue of sin from the perspective of different religions. Their was a Catholic Priest, a Jewish Rabbi, and a Mormon Bishop. No, they did not walk into a bar.

The Mormon bishop was a mathematics professor at the college. He did a great job.

I was part of a group of faculty and students that tweeted the event. One of the students, Micah, is a member of the debate team and the son of a Lutheran minister in Cheyenne.

Micah wondered in a tweet why there was not a protestant representative on the panel. A colleague in the English department asked “Aren’t Mormons considered to be Protestant?”

Micah is quite sure that Mormons are not Christian, let alone Protestant. To be honest, I have not asked him to fully explain why. Debaters like to win the argument and arguing religion with students is something I avoid. For the most part, Micah views Christ’s grace as sufficient. He views the Book of Mormon as a sign that Mormons do not view that grace as sufficient.

However, Joseph, the English professor was using Protestant in the way that I had been introduced to it growing up. Protestants are non-Catholic Christians.

(The Protestant song “How Great Thou Art” is being song by a duet as I type this…during Sacrament meeting.)

Protestant is a pretty broad category which includes many churches. This ranges from mainline Protestant sects to Non-denominational churches. It includes churches founded in Europe and churches founded in both the First and Second Great Awakenings.

Mormons do not think of themselves as Protestants. I think they mostly think of the themselves as rejecting both Protestantism and Catholicism and returning (restoring) to the true form of the original Biblical church.

However, we have much in common with Protestants. Mormons use the King James Version. This is the Protestant Bible. Our music is very Protestant in style and many of our hymns are Protestant hymns.

Many of the theological issues addressed in the Book of Mormon are the issues facing Protestantism in the midst of the Second Great awakening. Mormonism does not so much reject these debates, instead it takes a specific position on them.

Now Mormonism surely falls outside the Protestant mainstream. However, I do not think this puts Mormonism outside the category of Protestantism all together. Instead, Mormons are likely best grouped with groups like the Shakers, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh-Day Adventists.

Mormons like to see themselves as having much in common with the Catholics (claims to original authority) and Jews (Abrahamic covenants and temples). I contend that such a view fails to account for the actual origins of Mormonism.

On Tuesday, I attended Shrove Tuesday dinner at St. Marks Episcopal Church in downtown Casper. My kids loved the pancakes. I enjoyed chatting with the minister and an older couple. It felt a lot like a ward activity.

About Chris Henrichsen

Chris Henrichsen has moved Approaching Justice off of Patheos. Find his latest posts and the new Approaching Justice. Thanks!

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    Nice post, Chris. We’ve gone the rounds on this before at JI with several smart folks making good points on both sides of this debate:

    http://www.juvenileinstructor.org/is-mormonism-protestant-some-reflections-on-rohrers-wandering-souls/

    I think Mormonism is best understood historically as radical Protestantism.

  • Stan Beale

    Whenever I see this argument I think of the young lady-old hag drawing from near the turn of the previous century. Whether we see a beautiful young woman or an aged lady is often determined by our frame of reference. Those who believe that we are not “Christian” certainly do not want to use the label of Protestant for us. Those of us who want to be perceived as mainstream Christian are much more comfortable with “Protestant.”

    I wonder, though, if we were living in a strong Irish Catholic neighborhood in Belfast, would we be be eager to embrace such an appellation.

  • Chris H.

    Christopher,

    Radical Protestanism sounds right to me. Thanks for the link. That thread was amazing!

  • Chris H.

    Stan,

    I have no desire to see us viewed a mainsteam Christian and we surely are not. I think in a Catholic neighborhood in Belfast, you would likely get heat just for being a non-Catholic.

  • http://agitatingfaithfully.org Dane Laverty

    Christopher, I give my thanks along with Chris for your link there. My favorite sentence from the comments was WVS’s, “Mormonism bought and sold in a Protestant marketplace.” Whether or not we are Protestant, the “other churches” in our usual anecdotes are generically Protestant (except when we want to talk about priesthood authority, and then we can include Catholicism). Orthodox and other strains of Christianity are invisible to us, at least in my experience with Mormon discourse.

  • Clark

    We’re not Protestants. We’re Masons. LOL.

    More seriously it seems like Joseph and company were pretty positive towards the more Catholic groups but actively dislike the Protestants. Around the 1930′s you end up with an influx of Protestant theology – especially as it relates to evolution. However at the same time it seems like a lot of our theology was a reaction against Protestantism. So I think we have a kind of complex relationship. But there appears to be much more of a real relationship as opposed to Catholicism and especially Eastern Orthodoxy where we have strong parallels but rarely real connections.

  • Kristine

    “More seriously it seems like Joseph and company were pretty positive towards the more Catholic groups but actively dislike the Protestants.”

    You’re kidding, right?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/ Chris H.

    Clark,

    My guess is that Joseph likely knew very little about Catholism other than anti-Catholic Protestant rhetoric.

    The Great Whore of All the Earth (is that the exact wording?) is the Catholic Church. Actually, I do not think that is really is, but I do think that is what the Book of Mormon is referring to. Few things in 1830 are more Protestant than referring to the Catholic Church in such terms.

    I think that Mormonism was a response against much of the Protestantism of its day. However, the same can be said of the Methodists, Baptists, and Seventh-day Adventists (amongst others).

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/ Chris H.

    Kristine,

    How are ya?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/ Chris H.

    Dane said: “Whether or not we are Protestant, the “other churches” in our usual anecdotes are generically Protestant (except when we want to talk about priesthood authority, and then we can include Catholicism). Orthodox and other strains of Christianity are invisible to us, at least in my experience with Mormon discourse.”

    Dane,

    I think our treatment of other religions rarely reaches beyond straw men. We seem to treat all Protestants as Evangelical Born-Agains. I agree with you that we ignore orthodox lines…I am guilty of that for sure.

  • clark

    Chris, I think he read a fair number of commentaries and the like so was more knowledgeable by the end about Catholicism. How much I couldn’t say. But clearly he had at least superficial knowledge.

  • clark

    Regarding other religions I agree there is a certain sense of straw men. I think though that most members gauge other religions by their contact with them. Typically that means encounters with the beliefs via laity. However just as lots of regular Mormons have some pretty weird beliefs that don’t line up with official teachings so too do many Protestants and Catholics. For instance I’ve met lots of Catholics whose relation with venerated saints probably isn’t in keeping with the official doctrines of Catholicism. Likewise when I lived in the south the notion of “cheap grace” was a common belief as was modalism despite the fact both were heretical within Protestantism.

    It’s funny as we’re constantly getting upset when anti-Mormons appeal to what some members believe as a way to define Church belief. (Remember that annoying chapel Mormons vs. internet Mormons category from some years back?) However if we hate when they do it we really need to be careful not to do it ourselves.

  • mike lonergan

    joseph smith’s authobiography claims that God tells him that all christian creeds are abominations and that all their prefessors are corrupt.my retroactive phone call to joseph smith would consist of atleast a couple questions.Hey joe ask God why did HE WAIT 1800 YEARS TO TALK TO ONLY ONE PERSON THAT ALL CHRISTIAN CREEDS THAT HAVE BEEN RECITED IN CATHOLIC AND PROTESTANT CHURCHES WERE ABOMINABLE STATEMENTS AND ALL CATHOLIC AND PROTESTANT PROFESSORS WERE CORRUPT .hEY jOE LOOK UP FALSE PROPHETS WHEN YOUR THIRTY OR FORTY WIVES GIVE YOU A CHANCE.

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  • Adjoran

    The definitive quote on the subject comes from the irreverent South Park cartoon’s “All About Mormons” episode. A Mormon family moves to town, and one son, Gary, befriends regular cast member Stan, who is amazed by the family’s attitude towards him and each other. But after researching Mormonism, Stan is intent on questioning its beliefs. Gary’s final rebuke says it all by breaking character – excuse the language, they are 10 year old boys.

    Gary: [to Stan] Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life. and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that. The truth is, I don’t care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the church teaches now is loving your family, being nice and helping people. And even though people in this town might think that’s stupid, I still choose to believe in it. All I ever did was try to be your friend, Stan, but you’re so high and mighty you couldn’t look past my religion and just be my friend back. You’ve got a lot of growing up to do, buddy. Suck my balls. [walks away] Eric: Damn, that kid is cool, huh?

  • http://ajacksonian.blogspot.com/ ajacksonian

    During the Protestant Reformation there was a continuity that still bound Protestants and Catholics together, which is Orthodoxy. Post-Westphalia if you held to Orthodoxy but denied the power of the Pope, you were Protestant.
    What happened in the next two centuries was the expansion of religious tolerance and the rise of the non-Orthodox religions that do not hold to Trinitarian views. Thus while Protestants and Catholics are separated by where the instruction of religious doctrine is seated (Luther’s idea was, after all, to see that vested in the individual and that the Gospels should be available in all languages), they are both separated from Unitarians, Mormons and other christian churches that do not hold to Orthodoxy. You can’t get to the tolerance of the non-Orthodox beliefs without going through the Reformation and Westphalia, but that doesn’t mean that the non-Orthodox churches were to be embraced by Orthodox communities. Which is why those non-Orthodox communities fled to the New World and America and you get an influx of different strains of Christianity fleeing religious intolerance in Europe against them. Tolerance of religion becomes a keystone of America, which we have to be reminded of time and time again so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of Europe.

  • G. Charles

    Regardless of where this ends up, Protestants generally consider Catholics to be much closer in the Christian faith than Mormons. This may change, I don’t know, but historically this is the case even though Mormonism was a break-off from Protestantism. Catholics and Protestants say the same Creeds; Mormons reject the traditional Christian Creeds.

  • Akatsukami

    “However, Joseph, the English professor was using Protestant in the way that I had been introduced to it growing up. Protestants are non-Catholic Christians.”

    Well, then, Joseph has no business participating in a discussion about religion if he thinks that Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Armenians, and Copts are “Protestants”.

  • Geoff

    Mormons deny the Trinity and a have a conception of God totally at odds with Biblical revelation. Not to mention that their conception of grace and justification is at odds with the Reformation. Sorry, evangelicals in their right mind can’t consider Mormons as Christians, let alone Protestants.

  • Nathan Alexander

    The Church of Latter Day Saints are not Protestants, they are Millennialists.

    Heck, it is right there in the name “Latter Day” Saints.

    Words mean things. Protestants are a specific group of churches arising from a common set of assumptions, all in reaction to the Catholic Church. There were many variations, some extreme, but they started with the assumption that Catholicism had lost its way, but resisted reform with a too-heavy hand, thereby losing the endorsement of God.
    Millennialists are a specific group of churches arising from a common set of assumptions, mostly in reaction to the Protestant Church in the United States, and possibly influenced by problems with the concept of Manifest Destiny, and Industrialization. There were many variations, some extreme, but they started with the assumption that it was possible to interpret Revelations, and possible to obtain new/ongoing revelations from God.

  • greghh

    Akatsukami, you’re probably right, but in theory he might consider them all Catholics. I believe all of those Churches refer to themselves as The One True Apostolic and Catholic Church. We just tend to use the name to refer to Roman Catholics.
    Geoff, sorry but we have to cross swords on that one. The Mormon conception of God is totally at odds with the Catholic one as constructed at the Council of Nicea, not with anything in the bible.

  • Kristo Miettinen

    The key question, of course, is not “what are Mormons?”, but rather “who are protestants?”. It is the latter question that is much harder to answer.

    Historically there were numerous “protests” that have been taken to be definitive of Protestantism. If you take Luther’s “protests” against the excesses of the medieval western church, then most western non-Catholic denominations are of some protestant sort or another. But many later protests, that deserve equal (or greater) consideration as candidate roots for the term “protestant”, distinguish the Reformed denominations that got locked out of power from the Lutherans, Catholics, and Church of England (and Church of Scotland) that held blended secular/ecclesiastical power in their respective domains. By the more restrictive interpretation, protestants are broadly speaking Calvinists, Arminians, Zwinglians etc.

    The advantage of the restrictive definition is that it makes terms like “radical protestant” coherent. If “protestant” merely means non-Catholic, then “radical protestant” is meaningless (you can be something in a radical way, but it means nothing to claim to not be something and radically so). To see this point more clearly, substitute any less-emotional category: “radical historian” makes sense, “radical non-historian” does not.

  • BLBeamer

    I am in my fifties and married a Mormon girl. We started dating in high school. I had plenty of opportunities to hear about Mormon theology and compare it to my own Protestantism. Without exception, all the Mormon teachers I had assured me that Mormons were not Protestant. They were “restored” not “reformed”. In fact, that difference was supposed to be part of Mormonism’s appeal. It is somewhat amusing to me that before, I was told that all the creeds and denominations of Protestantism were false and an “abomination” (yes, that word was used). Now, I am hearing protests that, “Of course Mormonism is Christian, we agree on so much.”

    Sorry, folks, you can’t have it both ways.

    I never was able to reconcile Doctrine and Covenants with the Heidelberg or Westminster Catechisms and I never joined the LDS church. I read and studied “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” cover to cover, too, if you doubt my sincerity. My wife ended up leaving , too.

  • Denver

    Greetings,

    “Micah is quite sure that Mormons are not Christian”

    This is a position that is not uncommon. Mostly it is used as some kind of slur against LDS. While it may be used as a slur, it is not.

    Christians define themselves by their common beliefs. Whether they be Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Protestant, each profess belief in the tenants developed at the 2nd Council of Nicea. Beliefs such as the Apostolic tradition and the Trinity.

    LDS members express disbelief in both the Apostolic tradition and the Trinity, which, I’m afraid, gives us an Ipso Facto. LDS cannot be Christian.

  • Richard

    I assume you meant to say that Protestants are non-Catholic Western Christians. You didn’t mean to lump the Eastern Church in, presumably.

  • ThomasD

    Mormonism is not monotheistic, and recognizes a plurality of Gods. So, even though adherents ‘use’ the KJV version of the Bible, and may abide by every other principle and practice of Jesus, it is not a Christian religion.

    OTOH your arguments may better apply to an LDS offshoot religion the Community of Christ, which is monotheistic and Trinitarian.

    But these conversations often seem to accomplish little if anything positive. Let Mormons be Mormons. In a nation founded upon the principle of religious freedom this is a principle all members of the orthodox Christian faiths should appreciate and embrace.

    Sophistry, or attempts at obfuscation inevitably fail, doing more harm than good. People can only truly reconcile when presented with the whole and honest truth. Mormons, regardless of how other Faiths may view their religion, have become a an integral part of our society and should be respected as such. They do not need the imprimatur of ‘Christianity’ in order to receive this level of dignity and respect.

  • R.C.

    I think it’s possible to be a bit more precise:

    “Protestants” are non-Catholic Christians who understand Christianity in accord with the Council of Nicea and who use terms like “Father,” “Son,” “Holy Spirit,” “Eternal Life,” and “Resurrection” in a fashion which is roughly identical both to each other and to the fathers at Nicea. They agree with the Nicean view against Arius, and likewise hold an understanding of each of the Persons of God sufficiently identical to one another and to the council at Nicea to equally condemn all the other early Christological heresies. Put another way, “Protestants” are those non-Catholic Christians who can affirm everything Athanasius proclaimed against Arius…and this is of particular importance to Protestant Christians, practitioners of “sola scriptura,” because Athanasius was the first Christian in recorded history (in his Easter letter, around 370AD) to correctly list the 27-book canon of the New Testament used by all Protestants today.

    The reason that Mormons are not correctly categorized as Protestants is because they cannot, without significant alteration of the definitions they give to terms, assent to Athanasian Trinitarianism. The Mormon stands outside of all the debates of Monophysitism and Miaphysitism and Arianism, and cannot claim the Athanasian Creed. And, while even some evangelical Protestants have difficulty with Irenaeus of Lyons and Ignatius of Antioch (men who were instructed in Christianity, and placed in leadership positions, by the apostles or their direct disciples like Polycarp), they are in far greater accord with the theology of Irenaeus and Ignatius and the other early fathers than Joseph Smith, who is an order of magnitude further removed from pre-Nicean Christianity.

  • Tom Perkins

    “Mormons do not think of themselves as Protestants. I think they mostly think of the themselves as rejecting both Protestantism and Catholicism and returning (restoring) to the true form of the original Biblical church.”

    No, they are definitely derived from Christianity, but are a fourth and fairly distant branch from it. No other part of the body of Christ finds the Bible or it’s relation of the Word and life of Christ to be in need of supplementation by a third and as it supposes “revealed” testament. I find the Book of Mormon to be far more obviously the product of the mind of man, as opposed to the faithfully received inspiration of God, than any of the Bible’s books–which are also in some measure NOT inspired by God, but are the product of at best a well intentioned but a faulty vocation and testimony.

    Those branches I would put as the Orthodox, RCC, Protestant, and then the Mormon faiths, to name them ordinally in history.

  • richard40

    I think the commentor that classified mormons as christians that were neither protestants or catholics had it best. And his division of Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and Mormon is pretty good. Out of those 4, the protestants are by far the most diverse, if you classify 7th day adventists, and unitarians as protestants as well.

  • Denton

    Actually if you’re Eastern Orthodox, it’s easy. All western Churches are heretical Christians. As to them being Protestants or Christians, I think of them as a sort of gnostic Christian group. Secret knowledge and all that…

    Some Mormon writers have found a link with the Orthodox in our doctrine of deification. We don’t agree but I think it came up that because we are so unfamiliar to most westerners and the concept is not part of western theology as explicitly.

  • http://Www.article6blog.com Lowell B.

    North American Mormons are culturally very close to Protestantism. We seem to have more in common with them than others. Even so, living in L.A. the last 30+ years we have found just as much comfortable common ground with practicing Catholics too, so go figure. Catholics seem less suspicious of us than our Evangelical friends, that is certain, Theologically we are anything but Protestant or Catholic. It’s tempting to find another box to put us in, like millennialist, it we really are unique. That’s not a boast, just an effort to be accurate. Unique is not necessarily good, after all.

  • Edwin Duthie

    When you look at the nuts and bolts of Mormonism, you find it’s far more similar to, say, Hinduism, or even some forms of animism, than to Christianity.
    Just like English is French vocabulary upon a Germanic substructure, Mormonism is a Christian vocabulary upon a Pantheistic substructure.
    It’s at a glance it’s superficially similar to Protestantism, and generally Mormons hold the same social values, but the basic theology is very, very different.

  • BooMushroom

    As a Catholic, I reject the idea that Mormons are Christian. As a citizen and fellow human being, I find the practice of their faith to be a positive influence in their lives and in our country. I consider myself lucky to be friends with several of them.

    I do not agree with their tenets of faith, but I will defend to the death their rights to hold them.

  • L. H. Kevil

    Wow – a whole lot of naivete, if not ignorance.

    Protestant does not mean simply not-Roman Catholic. Would you say that Orthodox believers are Protestants? My pastor says – quite rightly IMO – that Lutherans are not Protestants, since we have a more sacramental understanding of grace than do Baptists or Presbyterians. But all of us are Christians, with our sin-deformed differing understandings of what that means.

    Mormons deny the authority of Jesus as expressed through the Bible. Only their scriptures are divine in origin. They claim that all existing churches are corrupt, invalid, and heretical. They have adopted a works and law oriented view of justification. They believe all manner of disproven claims about the early settlers of North America; that God was once a man; that they too can become gods…. It is very difficult for a Mormon believing the above to claim credibly that he is Christian.

  • http://andrewjpatrick.com Andrew

    As a Catholic, and a Theology teacher (for whatever that might be worth), my instinct is not to regard Mormons as Protestants. I don’t know terribly much about Mormon theology, but when you rely upon an entirely new set of Revelations, you’ve rather left the stream of what most Christian denominations believe. Even if you “use” the King James Bible, how authoritative is it to you? For Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants, the New Testament is God’s final and complete Revelation. It isn’t for Mormons, and I think that means something.

    Let me put this another way: COP’s all agree that the Nicene-Constantinoplean Creed expresses the essential beliefs of the Christian faith (most Protestants prefer the Apostle’s Creed, but they don’t disagree with the Nicene, and while the Filioque business is still a sticking point for the Orthodox, it’s hardly earth-shattering). Do Mormons accept the N-C Creed? I actually don’t know. If they do, then that makes them a lot closer to Protestants than I would have anticipated. If not, then I would put them outside, unique among Christian churches. NTTAWWT.

  • Tom D

    And for our next act we decide how many angels can dance on the head of a pun :-).

  • http://GentlyHewStone.com Huston

    Re: Kevil
    “Mormons deny the authority of Jesus as expressed through the Bible.” FALSE. Unclear how this is understood to be true. Citations?
    “Only their scriptures are divine in origin.” TRUE, as the Bible is one of our books of scripture. FALSE, as some scripture outside the Judeo-Christian tradition altogether could be said to be inspired by God with a degree of truth.
    “They claim that all existing churches are corrupt, invalid, and heretical.” TRUE, in the sense that they contain some untrue beliefs and lack the full, current authority of God. FALSE, if meant to imply that other churches are destructive, ineffective, to be scorned, etc.
    “They have adopted a works and law oriented view of justification.” FALSE. The Book of Mormon and LDS prophets have always taught that the Atonement of Christ is a gift of grace: http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Grace
    “They believe all manner of disproven claims about the early settlers of North America.” FALSE. The LDS Church takes no position on matters of specific historical detail regarding the Book of Mormon. Many members have made assumptions unwarranted by the text, but our understanding of it is improving. Indeed, the more we learn about ancient Mesoamerica, the more plausible the Book of Mormon becomes: http://www.jefflindsay.com/BMEvidences.shtml
    “that God was once a man; that they too can become gods” TRUE. God is literally our Father in Heaven, and we are of the same species; His goal–like that of any good parent–is to raise us to become like Him.
    “…. It is very difficult for a Mormon believing the above to claim credibly that he is Christian.” FALSE. Early Christians of the 1st-3rd centuries believed it: http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_the_nature_of_God/Deification_of_man

  • Carey J.

    Actually, R.C., “Protestants” are non-Catholic *Western* Christians who etc. The Orthodox (both Eastern and Oriental) Churches made their break with the Roman Patriarchate long before Martin Luther was born. The Orthodox Churches never got into “sola scriptura”, because we know the history of the Canon of Scripture. For centuries, every bishop had his own canon, and was free to include/reject books as he saw fit. Eventually a consensus formed around the Canon of Athanasius, but it was the Church’s acceptance of that Canon that made it “official” (See Matthew 18:18). The Church has authority, direct from Jesus, to rule on issues, as needed. Such rulings must be consistent with church teachings and tradition, of which the Bible is a part.

    Regarding Arianism, if you consider Jesus Christ to be a created being, subordinate to God the Father, you are not “outside the debate of Arianism”, you *are* an Arian.

  • MJ

    Blogging during Sacrament meeting? For shame! :)

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/ Chris H.

    Wow, that took off out of nowhere! Thanks for stopping by y’all.

  • Anastasios

    Mormons and (some) Protestants both share the “Great Apostasy” view of church history, though.

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