"I'm a Mormon"
Note: the title is in quotes; I am not a Mormon.
The serious candidacy of Mitt Romney—whom I refer to as Flip Flopney—once again raises the profile of the Mormon faith, and now, perhaps you’ve seen the ad campaign featuring people from different walks of life, ending with the tag line, “I’m a Mormon”. Fine. It’s a free country, and my 1st Amendment-guaranteed freedom of religion is no greater than that of the Mormons, the blatherings of a nutjob from the American Family Association notwithstanding.
That said, it is critical that evangelical Christians consistently respond by speaking the truth in love. First, to the love part, we ought always to remember that we represent Christ, and while we have significant disagreements with Mormons on issues of substance, they represent souls for whom Christ died. Winning arguments isn’t the point; sharing the love of Christ is. While many Mormons are former evangelical Christians, it is also true that many Mormons have found faith in Christ, and our manner must be winsome.
But the fact of the matter is that the “love” part isn’t much at issue these days; what is at issue is truth. Many Americans, myself included, watch or listen to Glenn Beck, who in his politically-charged commentary often includes references to God, to the need for America to get back to God; Beck sounds at times like an old-fashioned fundamentalist evangelist.
Beck, of course, is Mormon.
Then we have history-twister David Barton, who rallied to Beck’s defense last year with a theologically-indefensible statement in which he critically blurred lines that cannot be blurred. The problem with this, of course, is that Barton is quite en vogue these days among certain strata of evangelicals (I’ll be doing a post on Barton soon), and for the theologically-undiscerning among us (and they are legion), there is great temptation to count Mormons as among our troops. Hey, doesn’t Jimmy Carter even say that Mormons are Christians?
But we live in an age in which definitions are at a discount (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 1959), and in such an age it is critical that we speak clearly. And here is the way, it seems to me, to speak clearly (and charitably!) with regard to the Mormon push to be considered “Christians”. One need not be Christian to understand this; one need not be Mormon; one can indeed be an atheist and appreciate the logic of my approach, it seems to me. Here is what we must say:
“Mormons claim to be true Christians. We claim, as evangelicals, to be Christians. One of three things must be true: either Mormons are Christians, and we are not; either we are Christians, and Mormons are not; or neither of us can lay legitimate claim to the title ‘Christians’. But the one thing that is impossible is that both Mormons and evangelicals can, in the same way and to the same degree, be Christians.”
This is not a theological assertion; it is merely an application of the law of non-contradiction—and thus anyone can understand this who can simply reason. Mormon theology understands the person of Jesus Christ, and the means of human salvation, to be very different from the way evangelicals understand them. To name two cardinal issues, we must ask, is Jesus Christ God from all eternity, the Second Person of the Trinity, or is He not? Evangelicals say He is; Mormons deny this. Is His death and resurrection the all-sufficient means of our salvation, or is it not? Evangelicals say it is; Mormons deny this.
Now again, we must charitably allow for the possibility that Mormons are right, and we are wrong; fine. But if this is the case, they are the true Christians, and we are not—and vice-versa. We must say this truth with love in our hearts, but say it we must. And we must never allow for a mushy-headed, mealy-mouthed conflation of Mormon and evangelical faith to take hold, no matter how many political points we may hold in common, nor how much we like what Glenn Beck has to say.
As an outsider I always allowed others to make whatever definitions make themselves happy. Catholics are Christians, Mormons see themselves as practicing a primitive Christianity and offering a restoration to an earlier understanding of the Christian tradition, but I’m not sure what they identify as. Would Beck say he’s a Christian and a Mormon or that he is just a Mormon and through IDing as a Mormon just leave it up to the listener to fill in the “I’m a Mormon which is the true Christianity”?
This is want to restore the church to a primitive state which the Mormons see themselves as doing is fairly common; one can even make the claim that the protestant reformation arose out of similar desires to return the church to a more primitive state. Sometimes these movements toward a more primitive understanding results in new denominations like the Church of Christ and sometimes they become wholly new religions. One can make the argument, based on Matthew, that Jesus was a Jewish Primitivist; attempting to move Judaism back toward a simpler and ‘more pure’ form. Historical consensus, at least, teaches us that Christianity’s origin was as a Jewish Cult.
So too, Islam figures itself as a strive back to a more primitive understanding of the relationship between God and Man within the context of Middle Eastern monotheism and the common God (in the minds of Muslims) Yahweh=God=Allah. The Koran contains stories of Moses & other patriarchs and a fundamental belief of Islam is that the Bible became so corrupted God had to give Mohammed a new book… new book… same god… hmmm…
So too Mormonism, having its roots in Christianity & the Christian God but contains enough theological differences to distinguish it, and the whole Latter Day Saints Movement, as a separate faith. Right now Mormonism is relatively young religion and as time goes on these distinctions will become more clear, as they did between Judaism and Christianity & between Christianity & Judaism from Islam. Soon, perhaps, we’ll see the blossoming of a Mormon primitivist movement. That would be fascinating.
Our church softball league (which you played in at one time many years ago) recently came to battle with this. The LDS church in Slippery Rock wanted to join our league. Our bylaws state that we are a group of CHRISTIAN churches from the grove city area. Came to a vote of the existing teams and lets just say that there are some very hard feelings right now.