The New York Times published a curious opinion piece by a devout Mormon who insists that he is not a “Christian.”

I’m about as genuine a Mormon as you’ll find — a templegoer with a Utah pedigree and an administrative position in a congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am also emphatically not a Christian.

He equivocates on what he means by “Christian.” Sometimes he seems to refer to a set of historical and theological beliefs (he agrees with Richard Land that Mormonism is “a fourth Abrahamic religion, along with Judaism, Christianity and Islam”); other times to a culture of power and acceptance and behavior (“Being a Christian so often involves such boorish and meanspirited behavior that I marvel that any of my Mormon colleagues are so eager to join the fold”), and he also uses it in verbal form positively (“Mormons are certainly Christian enough to know how to spitefully abuse their power”).

One might think that a Mormon offering a strong defense of dissimilarity from historic Christianity would insist that theology matters. But that’s the opposite of this writer’s approach.

For the curious, the dispute can be reduced to Jesus. Mormons assert that because they believe Jesus is divine, they are Christians by default. Christians respond that because Mormons don’t believe — in accordance with the Nicene Creed promulgated in the fourth century — that Jesus is also the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Jesus that Mormons have in mind is someone else altogether. The Mormon reaction is incredulity. The Christian retort is exasperation. Rinse and repeat.

I am confident that I am not the only person — Mormon or Christian — who has had enough of the acrimonious niggling from both sides over the nature of the trinity, the authority of the creeds, the significance of grace and works, the union of Christ’s divinity and humanity, and the real color of God’s underwear.

Regarding the statement I’ve italicized: I understand that (1) this is an opinion piece, (2) that most Mormons don’t understand the Trinity, and (3) that many evangelicals—to use Robert Letham’s indictment—are “functional modalists”—but one would still think that the Paper of Record would flag a historical error this significant. The pro-Nicene theology emerging from the fourth century most certainly did not say that Jesus is the Father and the Spirit. That is a heretical belief.

For those who would be helped by a review of some of the key differences between Mormonism (or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) and historic Christianity, I once constructed a Q&A format from the ESV Study Bible article on religious cults and sects (article available online to subscribers). It’s an attempt to be concise and accurate without being overly simplistic.


What do Mormons believe about apostasy and restoration?

Mormons claim that “total” apostasy overcame the church following apostolic times, and that the Mormon Church (founded in 1830) is the “restored church.”

What’s the problem with this understanding?

If the Mormon Church were truly a “restored church,” one would expect to find first-century historical evidence for Mormon doctrines like the plurality of gods and God the Father having once been a man. Such evidence is completely lacking. Besides, the Bible disallows a total apostasy of the church (e.g., Matt. 16:18; 28:20; Eph. 3:21; 4:11-16), warning instead of partial apostasy (1 Tim. 4:1).


What do Mormons believe about God?

Mormons claim that God the Father was once a man and that he then progressed to godhood (that is, he is a now-exalted, immortal man with a flesh-and-bone body).

What does the Bible teach about the nature of God?

Based on the Bible, God is not and has never been a man (Num. 23:19; Hos. 11:9). He is a spirit (John 4:24), and a spirit does not have flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). Furthermore, God is eternal (Ps. 90:2; 102:27; Isa. 57:15; 1 Tim. 1:17) and immutable (or unchangeable in his being and perfections; see Ps. 102:25-27; Mal. 3:6). He did not “progress” toward godhood, but has always been God.


What do Mormons believe about the Trinity and polytheism?

Mormons believe that the Trinity consists not of three persons in one God but rather of three distinct gods. According to Mormonism, there are potentially many thousands of gods besides these.

What does the Bible teach about the Triune God?

Trusting in or worshiping more than one god is explicitly condemned throughout the Bible (e.g., Ex. 20:3). There is only one true God (Deut. 4:35, 39; 6:4; Isa. 43:10; 44:6, 8; 45:18; 46:9; 1 Cor. 8:4; James 2:19), who exists eternally in three persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14).


What do Mormons believe about human exaltation?

Mormons believe that humans, like God the Father, can go through a process of exaltation to godhood.

What does the Bible teach about humanity?

The Bible teaches that the yearning to be godlike led to the fall of mankind (Gen. 3:4ff.). God does not look kindly on humans who pretend to attain to deity (Acts 12:21-23; contrast Acts 14:11-15). God desires humans to humbly recognize that they are his creatures (Gen. 2:7; 5:2; Ps. 95:6-7; 100:3). The state of the redeemed in eternity will be one of glorious immortality, but they will forever remain God’s creatures, adopted as his children (Rom. 8:14-30; 1 Cor. 15:42-57; Rev. 21:3-7). Believers will never become gods.


What do Mormons believe about Jesus?

Mormons believe that Jesus Christ was the firstborn spirit-child of the heavenly Father and a heavenly Mother. Jesus then progressed to deity in the spirit world. He was later physically conceived in Mary’s womb, as the literal “only begotten” Son of God the Father in the flesh (though many present-day Mormons remain somewhat vague as to how this occurred).

What does the Bible teach about Jesus?

Biblically, the description of Jesus as the “only begotten” refers to his being the Father’s unique, one-of-a-kind Son for all eternity, with the same divine nature as the Father (see note on John 1:14; cf. John 1:18; 3:16, 18; see also John 5:18; 10:30). Moreover, he is eternal deity (John 1:1; 8:58) and is immutable (Heb. 1:10-12; 13:8), meaning he did not progress to deity but has always been God. And Mary’s conception of Jesus in his humanity was through a miracle of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:20).


What do Mormons believe about our eternal destiny?

Mormons believe that most people will end up in one of three kingdoms of glory, depending on one’s level of faithfulness. Belief in Christ, or even in God, is not necessary to obtain immortality in one of these three kingdoms, and therefore only the most spiritually perverse will go to hell.

What does the Bible teach about our eternal destiny ?

The Bible teaches that people have just two possibilities for their eternal futures: the saved will enjoy eternal life with God in the new heavens and new earth (Phil. 3:20; Rev. 21:1-4; 22:1-5), while the unsaved will spend eternity in hell (Matt. 25:41, 46; Rev. 20:13-15).


What do Mormons believe about sin and atonement?

Mormons believe that Adam’s transgression was a noble act that made it possible for humans to become mortal, a necessary step on the path to exaltation to godhood. They think that Christ’s atonement secures immortality for virtually all people, whether they repent and believe or not.

What does the Bible teach about sin and atonement?

Biblically, there was nothing noble about Adam’s sin, which was not a stepping-stone to godhood but rather brought nothing but sin, misery, and death to mankind (Gen. 3:16-19; Rom. 5:12-14). Jesus atoned for the sins of all who would trust him for salvation (Isa. 53:6; John 1:29; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18; 1 John 2:2; 4:10).


What do Mormons believe about salvation?

Mormons believe that God gives to (virtually) everyone a general salvation to immortal life in one of the heavenly kingdoms, which is how they understand salvation by grace. Belief in Christ is necessary only to obtain passage to the highest, celestial kingdom—for which not only faith but participation in Mormon temple rituals and obedience to its “laws of the gospel” are also prerequisites.

What does the Bible teach about salvation?

Biblically, salvation by grace must be received through faith in Christ (John 3:15-16; 11:25; 12:46; Acts 16:31; Rom. 3:22-24; Eph. 2:8-9), and all true believers are promised eternal life in God’s presence (Matt. 5:3-8; John 14:1-3; Rev. 21:3-7).

Print Friendly

Comments:


25 thoughts on “Are Mormons Christians?”

  1. Jason Estopinal says:

    As a Christian I like that the quoted Mormon author of the article owns up to the fact that Mormons are not in fact “Christians”. However, like most other LDS beliefs and assertions, most all rank and file Mormons would disagree with what this man has said – as they maintain that they themselves are “Christians”.

    Yes of course so many of “the church” “authorities” have said, over the years, Mormons are not Christians, but for whatever reason they refuse to own up to it. Actually its not event that they dot own up to it, its almost like they just turn a blind eye to it… Regardless of why they dont just own it, the fact remains that they dont, so we must meet them where they are at when we desire to share with them. I think its a fair statement to say that Mormons will pretty much not take to heart one thing you bring against them (like statements like this one quoted) so when all is said and done it must boil down to the fact that either Joseph Smith was a prophet and all Mormonism is true or he was a false prophet and it was all a lie.

  2. I decided a while ago to no longer call Mormons a “cult”. While certain Mormon groups have cult-like characteristics, generally the LDS comes across as just another “denomination” of Christianity.

    But this is not true. Mormonism is not Christian. I would label it an entirely different religion, and obviously one in which those who adhere to it are unregenerate.

    1. MF says:

      I like John Frame’s answer: Mormonism (and Islam and others) are Christian heresies.

      So then It comes down to how you define “Christian.”

      If by “Christian” you mean any group that self-identifies as such or claims to follow Christ in some meaningful sense, then yes, Mormons are Christians.

      But if you mean by “Christian” those groups that are sufficiently orthodox (not heretics), then Mormons could well be excluded, as could Catholics, Orthodox, Evangelicals, Arminians, Nestorians, Docetists, etc. depending on the standard of orthodoxy in question.

      1. Daryl Little says:

        Huh? Evangelicals? Arminians?

        Does church history mean nothing?

        Those are the only two groups you listed that can properly be called Christian.

        1. MF says:

          “Evangelicals? Arminians? … Those are the only two groups you listed that can properly be called Christian.”

          I think you’ve proven my point. There are plenty here who would offer a different standard of orthodoxy that would include, say, Catholics and the Orthodox as validly being called Christians. It all depends on the context which standard of orthodoxy is appropriate and where the strictness threshold is set.

          1. Daryl Little says:

            Well if Scripture is your standard, the gospel in particular, then it’s really not all that complicated…

            1. MF says:

              That’s the point: Scripture (or rather, our very similar interpretations of it) is not always the standard being considered in every context.

              I’m not trying to prescribe how we should use it; rather, I’m describing how it is used differently in different contexts.

    2. raddestnerd says:

      I once heard it said this way: There is a difference between a theological cult and a social cult. A theological cult would be LDS, JW, etc. A social cult would be Jonestown, etc.

      1. MF says:

        Seems to me that most theological cults start out as social cults around a charismatic figure. (Christianity itself appears that way to the Jews.)

  3. Daryl Little says:

    It’s really too bad that the question even needs to be addressed…

    But it does.

  4. I addressed this question in my article Counterfeit Christianity: The Revival of an Ancient Lie.

    In that article I argued that Mormonism espouses the same lie the serpent told Eve in the Garden: “You will become like God.”

    http://americancreed.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/counterfeit-christianity/

  5. mark mcculley says:

    Doesn’t the Bible teach that all humans are created immortal? Why would Jesus need to “secure” immortality? Won’t nonChristians live and sin forever in hell?

    1. Daryl Little says:

      Mark,

      Depends on what you mean by “live”.

      The Bible defines that as being in proper relationship with God. So non-believers are not alive, even while still breathing.

  6. I’ve always thought it disingenuous for a group of people on the one hand to call themselves Christian and on the other hand try to convert Christians to Mormonism. The balancing parallel is when we as Christians pursue the evangelization of Jews. We have to be able to explain at what point Christianity is what God intended Judaism to be post-Messiah.

    The difference is that Christianity essentially agrees with pre-Messianic Jewish theology while Mormonism doesn’t agree with Christian theology at all.

  7. Wanda says:

    Can someone explain this a little more for me?
    Based on the Bible, God is not and has never been a man (Num. 23:19; Hos. 11:9). He is a spirit (John 4:24), and a spirit does not have flesh and bones (Luke 24:39)

    Jesus had flesh and bones, Jesus is fully God and fully man.

    1. Daryl Little says:

      Wanda,

      At the time of the writing of the OT, you would’ve been correct.

      But now God the Son has become fully man as well.

      So it’s true, the Father is not a man, nor is the Spirit. But the Son (thankfully)is now, as you say, both fully God and fully man.

      The answer to your question really lies in the doctrine of the Trinity and the incarnation, not in the pre-incarnate existence of God.
      Since the incarnation, the essence of God has not changed. He is still the same, yesterday, today and forever, but the Son has essentially added the human nature to his personage.
      It adds humanity to the Son, with no effect on His divine nature whatsoever.

      It’s one of those things that we can, with Scripture, delineate to a great extent, but as soon as we ask “How does that work” we’re into speculation and, within a sentence or two, most likely heresy.

      1. Wanda says:

        Thanks Daryl – that helps. I thought it was something like that but I couldn’t put it into words :).

  8. Barbara says:

    Thank you Justin Taylor for this timely and informative piece! In light of presidential campaigning, Mitt Romnney’s presence has certainly made it necessary for those of us who knew very little about Mormonism, to become better educated about it.

    Until now, I lacked facts for why I always thought that Mormons were not Christians (for that matter, some people who say that they are Christian are not either, as “by their fruit,” they shall be known). Even as what I believe to be TRUTH continually enables me to be willing to oust “the beam” from own eye, and gives me plenty to occupy myself with conforming to the teachings of Christ –to me, it’s not rocket science that mine are Christian aspirations.

    For lots of people, this article provides clarity about Mormon faith and beliefs (and even comments about its origin). I can only imagine that it even helps people who are undecided, to make informed religious choices as it pertains to Mormonism and Christianity.

    I think, perhaps sometimes it may not be so important what religion a person asserts, as what / WHO a person models. Adequate and accurate teaching and information that explains The Gospel of Jesus Christ goes a long way in helping people identify the religion that they have, as well as the religion that might desire to have.

  9. Joe says:

    There is an equally serious issue. Are Mormon claims historically credible? If we forgoe this one, we are sort of suggesting our truth claims are just as tenuous as theirs. It is simply a question of “our truth” versus theirs. Awfully problematic.

Comments are closed.

Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

Justin Taylor's Books