When evangelical Christians discuss
Mormonism, without fail they raise the question, "Are Mormons Christians?" From a purely logical perspective,
to answer the question "are Mormons Christians?" one needs to know 2
- What is a Mormon?
- What is a Christian?
If one knows the answer to those two things, then whether or not
Mormons are Christians can easily be deduced.
Perhaps we can agree that a Mormon is somebody who believes that Joseph
Smith was a true prophet of God and that the Book of Mormon is genuine
scripture. In most cases, a Mormon is a member of the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints. I say "in most cases" because any
of the various sects that have descended from Joseph Smith are a
part of the Mormon religious movement, and thus any of their members are
rightly called Mormons.
If we agree up to this point, all that’s left to answer the question is
the definition of a Christian. If there is any confusion or controversy
regarding whether or not Mormons are Christians, that confusion is
regarding the nature of Christianity rather than the nature of Mormonism.
If you can tell me what a Christian is, then I can easily fire back at you
whether or not Mormons meet the criteria for Christian that you specify.
But if that is the case, then why do people who raise the question
insist on picking apart Mormonism to answer it? The answer to that is that
any reasonable definition of Christianity would imply that Mormons are in
fact Christians. But the critic doesn’t want to arrive at that conclusion,
so he or she tries to dig deep into Mormonism to show that even though it
appears that Mormons meet the required criteria, they really don’t.
It is at this point that the Christian will start offending the Mormon by
saying such things as "Mormons worship a different Christ," and, "the
Jesus that Mormons worship is Satan’s brother!"
Now, rather than analyzing all of the various arguments that the
non-Mormon Christians use to demonstrate that Mormons aren’t Christians,
it makes more sense to take a step back and look at the fundamental cause
of all of the differences. What is that cause? It is authority. Mormons
believe that they uniquely possess the authority to act in the name of
God. Non-Mormon Christians believe that God doesn’t grant authority to
churches per se but rather that God grants authority directly to
whomever he pleases (A different brand of non-Mormon Christianity is, of
course, Catholicism. But invariably, only Protestants question the
Christianity of Mormons, so their position is the only one I will consider
in this essay).
Now if I am right—that the fundamental difference between Mormonism and
non-Mormon Christianity is a question of authority, the question that
follows is why do these various groups disagree regarding who has
authority? The answer to that question is, simply, that they use different
methods to delimit truth from error. Protestants believe that the Bible
contains God’s word, and if we interpret it correctly we will find all of
the truth we need within its pages. On the other hand, Mormons believe
that God reveals truth through the written and spoken words of prophets,
coupled with the Holy Ghost.
Because Mormons and Protestants use different methods to decide what is
and is not truth, it shouldn’t be surprising that they arrive at different
answers of what the truth is. It can be interesting to study in detail the
differences between Mormon and Protestant doctrine, but just noting the
differences doesn’t give us a clue as to which one is correct and which
one is incorrect. So, if the Protestant emphasizes that the Jesus of
Mormonism has some characteristics that differ from the Jesus of their
understanding, that doesn’t tell us which understanding of Jesus is more
accurate, only that there is a difference. If two groups have different
understandings of Jesus, it doesn’t make sense to disassociate one from
Jesus rather than the other until we first determine which group is
Therefore, what the Protestant should be focusing on is the basis
for their beliefs verses the basis for Mormon beliefs—not just
the various doctrinal nuances that flow from each system. If you want to
fell a tree you have to attack the base, not hack at the leaves. If the
Protestants want to make solid arguments against Mormonism, they need to
focus on why the epistemological system of gleaning spiritual truth
exclusively from the Bible is better than gaining it through the system
the Mormons teach. A key component of this argument must be about
hermeneutics –the art of interpreting the Bible. So not
only must the Protestant convince the Mormon that the Bible is the only
source of truth, he must also convince him that his system of hermeneutics
is the correct one.
Until the non-Mormon Christians demonstrate why their beliefs
are truer than the beliefs of Mormons, pointing out that their beliefs are
different will be a fruitless exercise.
(July 11, 2002) A site visitor said,
The "Are Mormons Christians?" page would do well to cite
Jan Ships article by the same name printed in her Sojourner in the
Promised Land. This is by far the most balanced look at the question
that I have ever seen. This issue in her opinion
(and mine as well) is quite complicated.
She spends a fair amount of time sorting out the
complications and reaches a fairly scholarly conclusion. She is not a
polemicist by any stretch.