Mormonism and the Christianity Police

This post is a slightly modified reprint of an earlier post. I am adding it as part of the Patheos Roundtable on “Are Mormons Christians?”

If one were to rank the issues about which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is most sensitive, near the very top of the list would be the persistant accusation that Mormons are somehow not Christians.  This is literally the first question in the FAQ section at www.mormon.org.

In responding to this charge over many decades, the church has sought to emphasize its Christian identity. Besides numerous discourses on the subject, the Church has projected a Christian image through the use of visual and material culture.  For the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Queens, New York, the Church acquired and displayed its now iconic reproduction of Bertel Thorvaldsen’s “Christus” statue, which appears on numerous websites and publications.  In 1996, the Church changed its logo to feature the words “Jesus Christ” more than twice the size of the other words in the name.  The image was meant to communicate the centrality of Jesus Christ to the faith.  Church leaders continue to offer impassioned sermons on the topic in recent years.

The policing of the boundaries of Christianity raises the question of who gets to decide what Christianity is.  Different Christians have drawn the boundary differently, depending on whom they are seeking to exclude.  For many centuries Protestants drew the boundaries such that Catholics were out of the fold of Christianity, commonly charging the Pope as the Antichrist.  Catholics returned the favor.  Devastating wars were fought in Europe over precisely who was a true Christian and who was not.

The contestation among Christians of all kinds over what it means to be a Christian underscores the fact that this is a contested category.  There is no single definition of Christianity.  Adolf von Harnack, one of the foremost Lutheran theologians of the nineteenth century, sought to identify the essence of Christianity in his volume, What is Christianity? He rejected the creeds, and any definition of religion which relied on “doctrines, regulations, ordinances, and forms of public worship.” He bitterly complained against an understanding of Christianity in which

 the living faith seems to be transformed into a creed to be believed; devotion to Christ, into Christology; the ardent hope for the coming of ‘the kingdom,’ into a doctrine of immortality and deification; prophesy, into technical exegesis and theological learning; the ministers of the Spirit, into clerics; the brothers, into laymen in a state of tutelage; miracles and miraculous cures disappear altogether, or else are priestly devices; fervent prayers become solemn hymns and litanies; the “Spirit” becomes law and compulsion. (Harnack, What is Christianity?, 193)

Harnack’s remarks are inspired by the similar kind of originalism that moved nineteenth century Mormonism’s Restoration perspective, an attempt to clear the historical board of learned theology and high church ritual and return to the “original purity” of early Christianity.  There is no question that Harnack and Mormonism see many fundamental aspects of faith quite differently, but there is much here that resonates for Mormons, most importantly the notion that Christianity is not about adherence to dogmas, but about life of faith.

It is easy for historians to discern today that Harnack’s understanding of early Christianity was deeply shaped by the theological frameworks of his own time.  Despite being a sophisticated scholar, he depicts early Christianity in his own image.  Those who are invested in a particular image of Christianity for their own normative purposes represent this image as self-evident, while to others it appears an a self-evident construction.  The question is whether any definition of Christianity which starts from the idea that it has an atemporal, non-historically bounded “essence” can succeed.

Social theory may offer more help than theology in understanding how the boundaries of Christianity are created and enforced.  Identity requires both a sameness and a difference over and against which to define oneself.  In order for there to be an inside, there must also be an outside.  The self always needs an other, and there is no other which is more fraught than the intimate other, who appears so similar as to be almost indistinguishable.  Lines must be produced and guarded in order to protect a particular understanding of what counts as Christianity.

Definitions of Christianity that seek to portray its essence are arguments about what that essences should be, not objective descriptions of fact.  They assume the very thing they are trying to prove.  Such definitions are rhetorical and ideological, producing similarities between themselves and what they see as authentic Christianity, and downplaying the differences.  Those that represent the boundaries as natural and fixed also represent themselves as atemporal, outside of the tumults of time and space.  But we know that such definitions fail the test of time.

If our definitions are always provisional, historically situated, and subject to change, what considerations should we make in determining the boundaries of Christianity?  One consideration must be the ethical.  As countless scholars have pointed out, the process of drawing boundaries can be fraught ethically.  Is it just to exclude a group who claim the title of Christians?  In answering this question it is useful to consider how defining some people as “outsiders,” as lacking a claim to some standard of authenticity, is the fundamental ideology behind so many of the ugly prejudices in this world. The Christianity police are often guilty of police brutality more than protection of their constituents.  Defining Mormonism out of Christianity sets, and follows, a troubling precedent.

  • bdlaacmm

    “an attempt to clear the historical board of learned theology and high church ritual and return to the “original purity” of early Christianity”

    Well, you failed there from the get-go by adding the Book of Mormon to the scriptures, which was utterly unknown to early Christianity. You want to get back to the “original Purity” of the Church? Then read St. Ignatius of Antioch, or St. Polycarp of Smyrna. But be careful when you do so… because THEY WERE CATHOLICS!!!

    • Grotoff

      Polycarp and Ignatius were Catholic? You might as well say that Paul was Catholic. Being Catholic or not being Catholic amounts to acknowledging the primary authority of the Bishop of Rome. That was certainly not something that any of them would have considered.

  • Randy Gritter

    So the only ethical way to define Christianity is be self-identification? Anyone who says they are a Christian is? It is a bit like modern sexual morality. Consent is the only thing that matters. If I say it is moral then it is.

    I am even confused why you care. If Mormonism is true than who cares what non-Mormons call it? As a Catholic I believe in a certain definition of Christianity. All those who have been validly baptized are Christians. Mormon baptisms are not valid. Not Christians. Is that offensive? I don’ think so. Lots of protestant churches exclude Catholics from their definition of Christian. I don’t get offended by that. I might ask questions like, “Who in church history meets you definition of Christian?” but that is just us pesky Catholics always bringing up history!

  • Brian s

    Christianity was defined in the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the first centuries of the church. It specifically had to do with who Jesus Christ is. Any departure from that is heresy, and therefore not Christianity. The fact that you use the name of Jesus Christ and worship your own version of Him does not make you Christian. You might think Christianity is wrong and Mormonism is right about who Jesus is, but you cannot claim the name of Christian simply because you wish to be classified as such. The definition of what is Christianity is has stood for well over a thousand years and you cannot change it. Quit complaining about those of us who insist on using the historic definition of Christianity.

    • trytoseeitmyway

      It’s just funny that you think there couldn’t have been any Christians before the seven councils came along. Or that someone who disagrees with any part of their creeds can’t be Christian, even if they believe the Bible fully. That may seem natural to you, but it is odd in my ears to tell someone who believes EVERY WORD written about Jesus in the New Testament can somehow not be Christian. Please read 1 John 4:2.

      • war.critic

        Of course there were Christians before the Councils. That’s why the heretical groups have different names, usually associated with the first person to propagate the NEW teachings. Councils were called and Creeds written to reaffirm the faith received from the Apostles in the face of attacks against it.

        As for those who cannot accept the Creeds, they may be Christians despite not really understanding Who they are worshiping and seeking. It’s those who actively teach against the Creeds that are in danger and have placed themselves outside of the Christian community.

        And the “EVERY WORD” bit… One who sits down with nothing but the Bible, whether he believes every word of it or not, is in no better shape than the Ethiopian eunuch before St. Philip was sent to him. Those of us who have been sent a “St. Philip” are in a different boat, however. The question we must ask ourselves is whether we have been taught rightly. The two parties in this debate are lined up behind the continuous and unbroken chain of teaching from the Apostles on one side and the prophecies of a nineteenth century American that find no basis in history on the other.

        • trytoseeitmyway

          Oh good. This very much helps to clarify matters. It is your position that someone who believes every word written about Jesus in the Bible may still not be Christian because he may not accept everything that men taught about Jesus in later years.

          I mean, really. “Pay no attention to the Bible, friend, just listen to me!” And you want to tell me who is Christian or not depending on whether their beliefs about extra-biblical doctrines (like consubstantiality, whatever that means) line up with yours.

          You missed my point about the anachronism of your definition. You can’t make one’s Christianness depend on adherence to credal statements not formalized until the last of the seven councils you cite, since that takes about 800 years. “Christianity” meant something before the Second Council of Nicea (787), you know. What it meant then is what it means now: faith in the divinity, mission, atonement, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Your attempt to redefine Christianity as a way of enshrining extra-biblical doctrines doesn’t work any better now than it would have then. Centuries of precedent doesn’t make an extra-biblical teaching any more biblical, nor does it make an error any less false.

          And you contradict yourself when you say that “Creeds written to reaffirm the faith received from the Apostles in the face of attacks against it.” Unless that faith (can one’s faith be received from someone else?) … unless those doctrines are in the scriptures originally, the authority to declare the doctrines can be subject to question. A Catholic (you perhaps?) would say that the authority it the authority given to Peter in Matt. 16:18, but then you have the problem of whether Protestants are Christian too, don;t you? Not having the “continuous and unbroken chain of teaching?” What with the Reformation and all. But if the creeds merely attempt to restate what is in the Bible, then it must surely be OK to follow the Bible in the first place. That was Martin Luther’s view anyway. I think he was a Christian?

          We spend a lot of time now talking about creeds. What part of what creed is it that you think I don’t accept? And what makes that view less Christian than yours? I’d invite you to be specific.

          I’m not sure what you think you get out of the snide “nineteenth century American” bit. Jesus, you’ll recall, was a Nazarene. Cf. John 1:46. Samuel was just a boy of no particular family. Moses was an adopted Egyptian. The list goes on. What’s the point of sneering about a prophet’s time and place? What you’re really saying is that you know who, when and where God will, or won’t, find a prophet to preach His word. But what WE’RE saying is that God has always spoken through prophets and apostles, and we know from Biblical authority (Eph. 4:11-14) that He will continue to do so, until we all come to a unity of the faith. Rather than trying to tell God how He should conduct His affairs, you might try humbly to hear His word. It’s just a suggestion.

          • war.critic

            RE: the first two paragraphs above: Do you have no interest in an actual discussion? It’s hard to take you seriously after that. Let me try again: Recall the story I cited from Acts 8 (assuming it exists in this form in the Mormon edition of the Bible–not an insult, I don’t how heavily edited it is):

            “So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless some one guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”

            “Me and the Bible” only takes one so far as evidenced by the 1000+ “Bible-only” denominations teaching 1000+ different things. Your saying that you believe everything said about Jesus in the Bible doesn’t go very far because I also believe everything said about Jesus in the Bible and yet we’re at this impasse.

            That’s half my argument. The other half is that your claim to simply believe what is right there in front of you in the Bible is false. Neither of us is the Ethiopian eunuch sitting in his chariot untutored. We have both been guided. The question is not who believes the Bible, but who has been tutored to understand it rightly? Who has been sent St. Philip by God and who has met someone sent by some other spirit?

            ——–

            “You missed my point about the anachronism of your definition. You can’t make one’s Christianness depend on adherence to credal statements not formalized until the last of the seven councils you cite, since that takes about 800 years.”

            I didn’t miss your point, I disagreed with it as it assumes a lot that I believe to be untrue historically. My counter narrative was that the Creeds did not define Christianity (as in add to it or change it) but that they answered those who were attempting to add to it or change it. Arius invents and propagates new teachings and a Council rejects Arianism and states what Christians have always believed (though perhaps in a more fleshed out way to defend it from the false teachers). Pelagius invents and propagates new teachings and…etc. Orthodox Christianity was always there. The Creeds were that Orthodoxy speaking in answer to the attacks of false teachers. The Church was unified enough for those first 800 years to do so through the single voice of the Councils.

            “A Catholic (you perhaps?) would say that the authority it the authority given to Peter in Matt. 16:18, but then you have the problem of whether Protestants are Christian too, don;t you? Not having the “continuous and unbroken chain of teaching?” What with the Reformation and all. But if the creeds merely attempt to restate what is in the Bible, then it must surely be OK to follow the Bible in the first place. That was Martin Luther’s view anyway. I think he was a Christian?”

            I’m Eastern Orthodox. That’s likely why what I’m saying doesn’t seem to be making sense to you and you’re making such bad assumptions about what I’m saying. For us, authority lies in Christ, not in Peter and not in the self. As for “just following the Bible,” see above. And note that it was Luther who wrote a catechism (to teach people to understand the Bible rightly, as he saw it) and wrote in the preface: “The common people…have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine, and, alas! many pastors are altogether incapable and incompetent to teach. Nevertheless, all maintain that they are Christians, have been baptized and receive the holy Sacraments. Yet they do not understand and cannot even recite either the Lord’s Prayer, or the Creed, or the Ten Commandments.” Again, trying to link Protestant reformationism (which was fully creedal and reacting to false Catholic ecclesiology and doctrinal innovations) and Mormon restorationism (which was a rejection of all that came before) is a false equivocation.

            “And you contradict yourself when you say that ‘Creeds written to reaffirm the faith received from the Apostles in the face of attacks against it.’ Unless that faith (can one’s faith be received from someone else?) … unless those doctrines are in the scriptures originally, the authority to declare the doctrines can be subject to question.”

            I don’t contradict myself. But you’re right that authrority is open to question. See above. Which of us has been taught by St. Philip?

            “I’m not sure what you think you get out of the snide ‘nineteenth century American’ bit…. What’s the point of sneering about a prophet’s time and place? What you’re really saying is that you know who, when and where God will, or won’t, find a prophet to preach His word. But what WE’RE saying is that God has always spoken through prophets and apostles, and we know from Biblical authority (Eph. 4:11-14) that He will continue to do so, until we all come to a unity of the faith.”

            I’m not sneering about Smith’s time and place. I’m pointing to the fact that though Mormons claim to believe that, “God has always spoken through prophets and apostles and…that He will continue to do so, until we all come to a unity of the faith,” for them to believe in the validity of Smith’s prophecy and those of his successors they must also believe that God was nearly completely silent and did not in fact speak through prophets and apostles for the 1800+ years before the revelation to Smith. I find the Orthodox position more credible (as you’d expect). We believe God continued to speak through His saints and through His Church’s conciliar ecclisiology and, especially, its Councils.

          • trytoseeitmyway

            The thing is, I don’t mind having a true discussion about any of this at all. I’m interested in comparative religion and know less about Orthodox Christianity than I would like. The only place I get exercised is when one party to the discussion claims to know how and where to draw a line between “Christian” belief and “non-Christian” belief, with my beliefs on the wrong side of the line. Because, you know, of the shared and common belief in the divinity, mission, atonement, resurrection and ascension of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Redeemer.

            And I understand, too, the point you’re making about the Ethiopian eunuch. I make the same point myself in citing Eph. 4:11-14. There absolutely needs to be authority in the interpretation of scripture, lest we be cast to and fro on every wind of doctrine. So we can agree there too.

            It is perfectly OK with me for you to day that “God continued to speak through His saints and through His Church’s conciliar ecclisiology and, especially, its Councils.” It is perfectly OK even though ecclisiology (well, probably ecclesiology) is a brand new word for me; thank you for teaching it to me. (I say that with complete sincerity.) We believe that the prophesied apostasy (2 Thess. 2:3) led to the adoption of extraneous doctrine and infected the legitimacy of the priesthood, although I’ll acknowledge to you that this critique is more pointed toward the other side of the East-West Schism. I even think I understand the Orthodox idea of deification to be closer to the Mormon version than the Catholic divinization is. But you tell me.

            I’m happy to have this discussion; just don’t tell me that I can’t be Christian when I know of my love for my Savior and my acceptance of biblical teaching about him. For us, too, authority lies in Christ, and not just in any apostle or in the self. Since we already agreed that one can adopt an interpretation of that teaching which falls short of truth, I don’t mind acknowledging the existence of disagreements about those things, but I think it has to be disingenuous to say that one can adhere to a consistent and plausible interpretation of the Bible and yet not be Christian. That exercise in line-drawing and exclusion can’t be of God. Matt. 7:1. I keep referencing 1 John 4:2, and yet no one seems to want to touch it.

    • DougH

      Heretics are, by definition, members of a *church* that either hold doctrines their church rejects or reject doctrines which the church holds. So either there is no such thing as Christian heretics, seeing how there is no single Christian church, or there is such a thing as Christian heretics and if you label Mormons as heretics you must also label us as Christian.

      Also, does your “historic” definition of Christianity also include the Marcionites, the adoptionists, the Arians and the Pelagians? Those are all groups that historians consider to be Christian but that disagreed with one aspect or another of the various creeds.

      • war.critic

        Words have meanings, folks. Heretic means “one who chooses,” i.e. one who chooses his own path against the one which he received.

        And, no, the historic (no scare quotes needed) definition of Christianity does not include the heretics that arose whose false teachings necessitated the calling of councils and formalization of Creeds. Heresy would be unrecognizable if there were not a pre-existing orthodoxy for it to depart from. Like Mormons, these earlier heresies preferred to call themselves Christian in an effort to redefine the term.

        • DougH

          So if the Marcionites, the adoptionists, the Arians and the Pelagians, etc., weren’t Christians, just what religious label should historians use to describe them?

          • war.critic

            Heretical Christian sects. That’s a label Mormons are free to use without objection. :)

          • DougH

            Not quite – heresy is in the eye of the beholder, after all. It’s a label that others can accurately apply to us, certainly, since to non-Mormon Christians we seem thoroughly heretical. But it’s also a label that we can apply to non-Mormon Christians with equal accuracy since they seem thoroughly heretical to us..

          • war.critic

            And the roundtable’s question is answered!

    • war.critic

      To correct Brian slightly, Christianity was defined by the person and incarnation of Christ. His revelation and His teachings were passed on to us by His Apostles and their successors. The Creeds were a restatement of Christ’s teachings made in response to false teachings or misinterpretations (i.e. heresies) that arose in latter days as Christ said they would.

  • RocksCryOut

    Calling everyone who goes to a church where the name of
    Jesus is mentioned once in a while “Christians” has rendered the term
    meaningless. Muslims believe Jesus was a great prophet and they even talk
    about him now and then. However calling Muslims “Christians” would be a bit
    silly.

    Yet, if Mormons want the moniker “Christian,” I say let them have it.
    Realistically, “Christianity” isn’t in whom one believes. Rather it is
    what one believes about the person in whom one’s faith is placed.

    Maybe those of us who believe that Jesus Christ is and
    always has been God should go by another name. Oh, I don’t know, like,
    maybe “edgers” or E.D.J.’ers. It stands for “Eternally Divine
    Jesus.”

    How ‘bout “If-ees,” or “I.I.F.’ers”? It stands for “It is finished” and
    refers to those of us who believe that the finished work of the cross renders
    works-oriented religions (i.e. all of them) futile and irrelevant.

    Perhaps the Patheos website is still conflicted on this
    issue as the “declared religion” field on the “my account” page of the website
    still lists “Mormonism” and “Christianity” as separate choices. Hmmmm.

    WHAT Mormons believe about Christ makes the gulf
    between Mormons and Christians wide and deep. But if the Mormons really
    want the label, that’s O.K. Those of us whose doctrine is radically
    divergent from theirs will just have to go by another Name.

    • trytoseeitmyway

      Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is and always has been God. But we also believe that He is a distinct Person from the Father (that’s in the Bible, you know) and that He is the Son of God. (Also in the Bible.) I can look up the verses for you if you like. I hope it’s OK with you to believe stuff from the Bible.

      • RocksCryOut

        Is all of the Bible true, or only insofar as correctly translated?

        • trytoseeitmyway

          Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is and always has been God. But we also believe that He is a distinct Person from the Father (that’s in the Bible, you know) and that He is the Son of God. (Also in the Bible.) I can look up the verses for you if you like. I hope it’s OK with you to believe stuff from the Bible. It’s all there regardless of translation.

          It’s always amusing when folks want to focus on the phrase “as far as correctly translated.” Those are the same folks who start talking about the original Greek when you challenge their understanding of something in the KJV. They’re the same folks who will dispute interpretations from the KJV based on the NAS or the NET or the NIV or the … well, you get the idea. The existence of issues arising from original Greek and Hebrew texts is well accepted among Christians. Well, the ones who know anything, anyway. But there is no dispute about the fact that Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is and always has been God. But we also believe that He is a distinct Person from the Father (that’s in the Bible, you know) and that He is the Son of God. (Also in the Bible.) I can look up the verses for you if you like. I hope it’s OK with you to believe stuff from the Bible.

          • RocksCryOut

            What a clever and verbose way you have of avoiding answering the question.

            I think there IS a dispute– I consulted a subject matter expert who said, and I quote, “Heavenly Father had literal sex with Mary to give birth to Jesus. Jesus was exhaled to the celestial kingdom (god hood) after he returned to heaven.”

            So since you don’t seem to know anything about what Mormons truly believe, and you won’t answer my question directly, I’m unilaterally declaring this conversation unprofitable and over.

            Have a nice life.

  • Homer

    1. Grace, not works
    2. monotheism, not polytheism
    3. the nature of salvation
    These 3 issues seem to me to differentiate ‘most’ Christian theologies from what I understands to be Mormon theology. All (non LDS) Christians I know believe that it is undeserved Grace from god, the belief in His son, that is the path to salvation, not performing certain works, or being ‘good enough’ to earn God’s approval. Putting aside the nature of the Trinity, all (non LDS) Christians that I know believe that Christianity is a monotheistic faith, only one God. My understanding is that Mormon theology allows for the idea of multiple Gods (in different worlds). Finally, salvation– most Christians believe that in Heaven, one gets to be in the presence of God. Alternatively, it is my understanding that Mormon theology allows one to achieve a God like status in the afterlife. Now, those 3 theological differences are large. But is the common ground even greater between ‘traditional’ Christian churches and the Mormon church? I hope so and would only offer these thoughts as a path to understanding different viewpoints. Certainly different Christian churches have different theological beliefs, but they pretty much all have those big 3 in common.

    • DougH

      First, Mormons don’t believe that we can “earn” our way to heaven. The Grace of God through Jesus’s Atonement is a vital component of salvation – but that Grace is available to all, and while necessary is not sufficient. God will not force salvation on anyone, we must accept it. Nor is that acceptance a one-time act but a lifetime process, something Paul himself recognized in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – that without discipline he himself might possibly fail to attain the prize after preaching to so many others.

      Second, for the closest thing to old-time polytheism you need to look at Catholicism, not Mormons. At most we’re an odd variety of monolatrist.

      And as for salvation, while almost all of humanity will attain a degree of glory, as Paul taught there are gradations. And the highest gradation will include the presence of God. Yes, some of those of the highest gradation will through the crucible of this life have shown they have the qualities needed for eventual Godhood, but not all of them. Nor will all of them have been Mormons in this life, many will have received the Word after death.

    • trytoseeitmyway

      It’s funny how you see differing attempts to justify a pre-conceived conclusion. Some say, “Well, it’s the creeds.” Others say, “Well, really, you have to be Catholic, but we only say that to the Mormons.” Others say, “Grace vs. works!”

      So, um, what do you understand Catholic teaching to be on that doctrine. Does Catholic soteriology line up with yours? If not, how do they get to be “Christian” but Mormons don’t?

      But as DougH says, below, Mormons ABSOLUTELY BELIEVE IN SALVATION BY GRACE. If you’ve been told otherwise, you’ve been lied to. It’s a sin to bear false witness against your neighbor, so maybe you could repent of that.

      So that I am myself honest about this, it is true that Mormons understand salvation to have a rich meaning. But salvation from the consequences of sin and death is absolutely understood as a free gift, not of works lest any man should boast. Eph. 2:8. On the other hand, we ALSO believe that sin and our behavior potentially has eternal eternal consequences. Matt. 7:21-23; Matt. 25:31-46. It is not that our doctrine is the same as yours – it isn’t – but it is the case that our doctrine is fully Christian. You guys skip over everything Jesus Himself ever said about salvation, grab one verse of Paul’s out of context, and figure that you have made righteousness irrelevant! The Bible doesn’t support you in that.

      “[I]t is my understanding that Mormon theology allows one to achieve a God like status in the afterlife.” Well, OK, but read the 8th chapter of Romans. What do you think it means to be a “joint heir” with Christ? Do you really claim to know how God limits the eternal potential of his children? Read 1 Cor. 2:9.

      Article 460 of the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church declares: “‘For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.’ ‘The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.’” [Footnotes omitted]

      So, are Catholics not Christian, do you think?

      C. S. Lewis (he was a Christian, right?) wrote: “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.” He explained that in Mere Christianity as follows:

      “The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were “gods” and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.” [Lewis, Mere Christianity, 174—75.]

      In 2006, Mere Christianity was placed third in Christianity Today’s list of the most influential books amongst evangelicals since 1945. So I guess Lewis is considered Christian.

      “Monotheism.” *sigh* Mormons believe in God the Eternal Father as the One True and Living God. That’s monotheism, isn’t it? But it is not as though the Bible doesn’t acknowledge other spiritual or divine beings. What are angels, exactly? When Jesus said, “Ye are gods,” what do you imagine he meant by the word “gods?” When God said, “Let us make man in our own image,” was he just talking to and about Himself in a kind of affected way? Why would He need to say anything at all, if He was the only One in the room? The Hebrew word “elohim” is a plural noun, and there’s a reason why that’s so. Read Job 1:8; is that consistent or inconsistent with monotheism, do you think? (It’s fine if you argue that it is consistent, because that makes the point that Mormonism, too, is monotheistic. It sort of depends on what you mean by monotheism.)

      Mormons don’t believe anything about spiritual beings that can’t be traced back to the Bible, so three strikes and you’re out.

      • Homer

        Monotheism is the belief that there is only one God. If you believe that there are multiple Gods,
        but choose to worship only one, this is not monotheism. It is polytheism, not all that different from
        the ancient Romans who believed in many gods, but may have chosen to worship
        just one. If Mormons believe one can achieve godhood in the
        afterlife, this implies that clearly there would be more than one god. (The original one, then anyone who achieved that
        status later on.) Even if you choose to
        only worship the original one, the belief that other gods exist (I dunno,
        perhaps these are lesser gods) is by definition polytheism, not monotheism. All non-Mormon Christians I know consider
        Christianity to be monotheistic, and find the idea of polytheism as very
        different than their beliefs.

        • trytoseeitmyway

          So I guess you didn’t actually consider anything I wrote. OK.

          • Homer

            read it all, still considering it. Also, I personally have little insight or understanding into Catholic theology (I never understood why they pray to saints, among other things). I only commented on the monotheism aspect. You wrote: “Mormons believe in God the Eternal Father as the One True and Living God. That’s monotheism, isn’t it?” My response is essentially, no, that is not monotheism as the word is normally defined. Believing in and worshipping the best or most powerful or first God (among many) is not monotheism. Instead monotheism is the belief that there is only one God. By the way, I am not attempting to argue that one set of beliefs is better than another, or that only one set of beliefs is truly “Christian” or not. I am (perhaps not very well) attempting to explore the differences in beliefs as a way to increase some understanding. If your belief is that is that your faith is monotheistic, then how can you believe that there are other Gods? this seems inconsistent.

      • Homer

        Another way to think of this: imagine a someone comes up to a man and says “Your dog bit me!” The man replies “That’s impossible, I don’t even have a dog. But besides, my dog never bites.” It seems to me this is similar to the logic “Mormons are monotheistic, it is a lie to suggest otherwise. But besides, even if they are polytheistic, that is OK because polytheism is still Christian.” I think that a much more honest and direct explanation would be: Mormons acknowledge they are polytheistic, and they consider this just fine, backed up by scripture, Christian theology, etc. The definition of monotheism has no controversy– just google it and you can find dozens of definitions that all say the same thing.

    • Bot

      Divinization, narrowing the space between God and humans, was part of Early Christian belief. St. Athanasius of Alexandria (Eastern Orthodox) wrote, regarding theosis, “The Son of God became man, that we might become God.” . Irenaeus wrote in the Second Century: “we have not been made gods from the beginning, but at first merely men, then at length gods” . . Justin Martyr, in the same century wrote: “all men are deemed worthy of becoming ‘gods’, and of having power to become sons of the Highest . . .” Jerome wrote that God “made man for that purpose, that from men they may become gods.” Clement of Alexandria said worthy men “are
      called by the appellation of gods, being destined to sit on thrones
      with the other gods that have been first put in their places by the
      Savior.” Origen in reference to 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 said “Now
      it is possible that some may dislike what we have said representing the
      Father as the one true God, but admitting other beings besides the true
      God, who have become gods by having a share of God . . As, then there
      are many gods, but to us there is but one God the Father, and many
      Lords, but to us there is one Lord, Jesus Christ.” . The Gospel of Thomas (which pre-dates the 4 Gospels, but was considered non-canonical by the Nicene Council) quotes the Savior: “He
      who will drink from my mouth will become as I am: I myself shall become
      he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him,” (Gospel of Thomas 50, 28-30, Nag Hammadi Library in English,
      J.M.Robinson, 1st ed 1977; 3rd ed. 1988) The Church of Jesus Christ
      (LDS) agrees with all these Early Christian writers regarding theosis.

      Confirming the views of Origen, LDS Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie said: “There is and can only be one who is supreme, who is the head and to who all the others are subject”.
      Becoming like God is not saying we will ever by equal to him, frankly
      we won’t and can’t. He, and only He, will forever be worshiped by us.

  • solotar

    In 1996 the Church changed its logo in response to the widespread belief that Mormons had not made clear their adherance to Christian doctrines? Well, that settles it then. I always believe the logo, don’t you? I’m lovin’ it.

    Forget about it, dude: Mormonism is a freakish cult. Mormons are not Christians. No matter how successful Mormons are at business, and no matter how much money they spend in re-branding, they aren’t Christians. Nice of you to let blacks in the church, though: glad God changed His mind on that one.

  • janeway

    Interesting discussion. Bottom line is that each “Christian” sect decides who is in and who is out and their sect is the best. Luther and Calvin may turn over in their graves to find out no one can be a true “Christian” if they do not abide all Catholic ideas, and those Baptist who claim self identification and Bible only aren’t Christians either although I remember visiting a Baptist summer camp that was a great experience but them preaching the Pope was the Anti-Christ and all the teachings of the Catholic Church were vile. Now they cling to the old Catholic Creeds to prove they are “real Christians”. A dear evangelical friend informed me that the KJV of the Bible was not right and Mormons using it was just showing they were not using the true Bible. My dear friend did not know how that Bible came to be and the great men, some martyred to make it possible and the “Mormons” had nothing to do with it as it happened 200 years prior to the Church.
    Maybe no one is a true Christian unless they belong to the individual claiming his church. I am so glad that Jesus will judge who follows him and not the various religions. I am LDS and I really don’t care if you think I am not a Christian or a Heretic (haven’t heard that term in a while) just as long as you don’t start burning us, hanging us, torturing as in the past with the Reformation with bad actors on both sides in their efforts to claim the title Christian. Jesus will return and settle all these questions, He will decide not us so in the meantime it would be nice if we all followed his words to “Love one another….” but I guess that would be beyond the many.

    • Grotoff

      The KJV may be beautiful piece of literature fundamental to understanding the development of the English language, but that doesn’t make it useful in understanding what the Bible specifically says in the 21st century. English changes and there have been many manuscript discovers since its compilation.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehnEZtqj2Mo


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