The Unauthorized Investigator's Guide to
The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints

Lesson 3

Are Mormons Christian?

When evangelical Christians discuss Mormonism, without fail the question is asked, "Are Mormons Christians?" This question is important if for no other reason than the fact that it is asked so frequently. As somebody who is neither a Mormon nor a Christian, I offer my outside opinion on this. From a purely logical perspective, to answer the question "are Mormons Christians?" one needs to know 2 things:

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 I would argue that 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 correct.

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 and science 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.

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