I’ve been engaged in a “dialogue” on a Mormon blog in recent weeks. I’ve been learning quite a bit about the actual differences between Lutherans and Mormons. I’d really like this post to be a systematic exploration, but I’m simply going to make some observations.
One of the first, and most significant learnings came early in the process. It sounded like Mormons and Lutherans speak the same theological language. We use the same terms. It can sound like we are in significant agreement. The trouble is that between the two faiths, those terms mean very different things. I am now careful to ask exactly what is meant by the term … and usually discover that there is no agreement. Grace, atonement, salvation, God, Christ, baptism, etc. all carry very different connotations.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the dialogue is that Christians (like Lutherans) do not accept Mormons as part of the Christian faith, and Mormons believe that they are the only true Christian church. Mormons reject the essential doctrine of the Holy Trinity as Christians teach it, substituting their own perspective for that term. Mormons reject the historical creeds of the church as being human-made and maintain that they have returned to a faith-filled first century Christianity. Mormons maintain that a prophet is necessary for the true church to exist, and since there are no claims of prophet status by any Christians (until Joseph Smith) that the Christian denominations were apostate. Mormons are careful to say that they don’t exclude anyone from the Christian church, but it is clear that in practice that those who hold to a creedal expression of the faith are considered to have strayed from true Christianity. In the meantime, for many Mormons it is quite a challenge to grasp that behavior that is consistent with Christian teaching does not guarantee that one is Christian. Obedience to the laws and ordinances of the church is the route to salvation, which the death and resurrection of Christ has “enabled” is a key part of the faith. (I use “faith” loosely here because Mormonism is very intensely focused on right behavior as being salvific.) This blinds them to a deeper experience of faith since faith=obedience.
Mormons have had a lot of practice countering the objections of Christians, and are actually pretty good at it. Mission training and experience counts for a great deal. They know more about the beliefs of Mormanism than most Christians do about Christianity. They will often rely on very conservative Christian resources in an attempt to prove that Christians believe as they do (for instance about creeds and Trinitarian Doctrine). I’ve not yet moved into discussions of Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic expressions of the Christian faith, but suspect there is a great deal of suspicion and dismissal of these two great and imporant parts of the Christian church. They have been willing to entertain many of my comments because Martin Luther is part of my history as a Lutheran, even though I’ve been told that he didn’t have the authority (because he was not an official prophet of God) to move ahead with reforming the church of his day.
I intend to periodically make observations like these as I continue the dialogue.