What I’m learning about Mormons – Part 1

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.

Pondering Pastor

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14 responses to “What I’m learning about Mormons – Part 1

  1. Something that came up recently in relation to this question is the insistence by the Mormon Church that it should be referred to by it’s full name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on first reference and as “The Church of Jesus Christ” or “The Church” on second and subsequent reference, or as a shorthand. Many Christians are deeply offended that a church that claims to be a “Christian denomination” should appropriate these names/titles to themselves.
     
    How would this work out in practice? Would press releases from the First Presidency be issued in the name of “The Church of Jesus Christ”? Doesn’t this exclude everyone else who is a part of the wider Christian community of which the Mormon Church claims to be part? When they speak for “The Church”, which is already an established practice, are we to infer that they are claiming to be exclusively “The Church” and all other claims to being, or being part of, “The Church of Jesus Christ” are invalid? Isn’t this a rejection of the very community of which they claim to be part?
     
    If Mormons belong simply to “The Church of Jesus Christ” does that make me, as a Christian, a member of the Mormon Church? If not, am I to infer that the Mormon Church does not regard me to be a Christian, since I do not belong to what they call “The Church of Jesus Christ”?
     
    If other churches speak publicly for “The Church of Jesus Christ”, or “The Church”, in their area will the Mormon Church object? Or will they pay heed to what God is saying through “other Christian leaders”? Being a “Christian denomination” means being part of the wider Christian community. This means giving due honour, respect and credence to other churches and their leaders. This is surely the acid test of the Mormon claim to be a “Christian denomination”. Do they behave like one?

  2. ponderingpastor

    The Mormon position is that once the apostles of Jesus (the 12) died, the Christian church ceased to exist until restored in the time of Joseph Smith. While they claim that they don’t discriminate against those of us who claim to be Christian, they see themselves as the only Christian church. They, however, are not Christian. (They really don’t like it when I say that either.)

  3. Mormons don’t view those who are not part of their faith, but believe in Christ as “non-Christians”. According to Mormon belief, a Christian is anyone who believes that Jesus Christ is their Savior and who is trying to live their lives according to that conviction. A Christian is basically a disciple of Christ. Mormons don’t have a monopoly on this. It is true that Mormons believe their church is in essence the “true” vine of Christianity because there has been a restoration of truths that have been lost. To say Christianity has lost it’s way over the years is a bold statement, but it is no way meant to demean those who adhere to traditional Christianity. There are good christian people of all faiths within traditional Christianity, but they do not have the vehicle werewith to be saved or enter into God’s kingdom. All will have a chance, and perhaps many chances, to accept or reject the truth in the Latter-days. Likewise, Mormons believe there are good people throughout the world of other “non-Christian” faiths that will eventually hear the Gospel and accept the message. These are not bad, heretic, or lost people…they just have not had the opportunity to hear the message. If one rejects the message of the restored truth, whether Christian or non-Christian, Mormons simply move on so others can hear. Our message is simple…take what you have already learned and see if we can add anything to that to enlighten or expand your understanding. We certainly aren’t trying to rob anyone of the rich spiritual experiences and blessings they have received in their individual faiths. I think some people feel threatened by Mormons because they think that somehow the Mormon message will erase their current beliefs or make them renounce their current belief system. It’s not really about that, it’s about understanding the true nature of Heavenly Father and the unceasing love He has for each and everyone of His children. That’s the first seed of understanding that takes root in the heart of the truly converted.

    • You say only the Father is Yahweh, not Jesus nor the Holy Spirit?

      Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and virgin Marry.

      Only God has the power of life, death and salvation. Then Jesus if the Holy Spirit isn’t God, fundamentally possess no ability to offer salvation because that power is reserved to God alone. Without the perfection if Godliness the power to be saved doesn’t exist. Christ Jesus’ death on the cross would be in vein.

      Geneses ch1 The power of the Father is realized through his Word brought to calm and order by the Spirit. Word of God made flesh in Christ Jesus. The Trinity is realized in the 1st chapter of the Bible. All 3 components of creationism are present in early scriptures.

      Jesus appears to Abraham with 2 angles in route to Sodom & Gomorrah. Genesis 18 changes from God to Lord signifying another presence emphasized from the original Hebrew tongue. Jesus is the promised covenant in Genesis 17 to come from Isaac’s bloodline. Isaac’s name means laughter as God too has humor.

  4. ponderingpastor

    Steve,
    Mormons can’t have it both ways. If “There are good christian people of all faiths within traditional Christianity, but they do not have the vehicle werewith to be saved or enter into God’s kingdom” is true, then they are not Christian. I respect that Mormons don’t want to treat other Christians the same way Mormons have been treated by Christians, but to exclude people from salvation is to exclude them. Despite the rhetoric, Mormons write Christians out of salvation the same way and for many of the same reasons Christians exclude Mormons.

    The message that Mormons insist is the core of a “saving gospel” is not. It is a works righteousness that minimizes the significance of Christ’s passion and resurrection and relies on human accomplishment contrary to Romans 3. If Christians accept the Mormon construction, then yes, Christians have to abandon the true nature of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and begin to worship within a polytheistic faith (even abandoning the 10 Commandments!).

    Your description is more like the Bahai faith, a syncranistic (sp?) faith.

    Pondering Pastor

  5. If you really understand the Mormon Plan of Salvation, you’ll realize the Mormons have one of the most benevolent doctrines in all of Christiandom. Mormons believe in different degrees of salvation and not just a cut and dry Heaven and Hell. It’s not so black and white as you have proposed. Mormons believe all mankind who ever lived on earth will be resurrected and live forever. Some define that as salvation. Mormons define salvation as living with God in His kingdom as joint heirs to “all that the Father hath”. Mormons also call this Exaltation. I truly believe there will be those who lived on this earth that never knew of Christ or His Gospel while on earth who will be Exalted….they were never Mormons. The Plan of Salvation allows for this. Why? Because Christ made an encompassing atonement for all of Mankind. Ultimately we will all stand before Christ to account for our experiences in mortality.

    Last point. If Christians accept the Mormon construction, then yes, they will need to abandon a false presumption of the nature of God based in the Nicene Creed, 300 years after Christ’s death. Polythiesm is the belief in more than one God, or the belief in many Gods. The first of the ten commandments says, “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.” Mormonism is not a polythiestic religion, nor in violation of the ten commandments. Mormons believe in one God who is God the Eternal Father who created us all. Christ is His only begotten son and acts as an intercession between man and our Father in Heaven. Indeed all we do is to or for the Father in the name of Jesus Christ. The Holy Ghost is a spirit who’s role it is to testify of God’s eternal truth to Mankind. We feel the influence of the Holy Ghost whenever something is good or right and leads us to believe in Christ and our Eternal Father. If you ask me who I worship, I’ll have no problem telling you I worship God, the Father and I do it in the name of Jesus Christ.

  6. ponderingpastor

    Steve,

    Mormons teach that the “atonement” provides a path or a doorway for godly people to achieve salvation and enter into God’s grace. God provided the same thing through the law in the Old Testament covenants. What a waste if Jesus did only what the law did, and that is exactly how Mormons describe it.

    I don’t doubt that God can save whoever God desires to save. I’m not so rigid as to believe that I know God’s mind. Mormons have to appeal to extra-Biblical material in order to come up with this “degrees of salvation”. But ultimately in Mormonism, it is the human work that counts rather than what Christ has done. Re-read Romans 3! (Yes, there are plenty of passages that also say that we are judged by what we do. It is a paradoxical revelation that Lutherans will hold as paradox while Mormons attempt to solve … usually by ignoring real grace.)

    Yes, Mormons are polytheistic when they reject the Holy Trinity. Your leaders and teachers have misrepresented what the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is about, and have also misrepresented the creeds. In that they are very consistent and bear false witness about the role of God in those debates. (Mormons have creeds too, you just don’t call them that!) The creeds all arise out of scripture and are true witnesses to the revelation of scripture. Mormons reject the historic/orthodox creeds primarily because Mormons worship Jesus as a separate god, rejecting the revelation of the Triune God in scripture. Mormons believe that the distinction between creator and creature disappears and that we become gods. Polytheism can be understood to either be the belief that there is more than one god or that there is worship of more than one god. Mormons experience both. That, as I read it, is a violation of the commandments. Of course, most Mormons I know focus on the apparent loophole in the commandment (You shall worship no other gods *before me*). That misses the point.

    What I find most interesting the deeper I engage in conversation about the Mormon faith is that Joseph Smith and the prophets that followed him developed a very culturally-centered religion that dismissed many of the challenging parts of scripture and the faith. It is an immature faith in that it has only been around for a relatively short period of time. (I reject the notion it is original Christianity. That appeal has no real solid basis, despite what you’ve been told.)

    Pondering Pastor

  7. Revelation starts off with the 7 Churches established by the 12 apostles, 7 lampstands resembles the burning fire of the Holy Spirit, as the lampstands burn out so does the Church in its decline.

  8. Mormons reject Christian baptisms and sacraments of the alter as established since John the Baptist poured water over Christ Jesus’ head and since the Lords Supper.

    A close family friend was taken from his home during a divorce and lived with a friend of his mother. She was Mormon and they had to cleanse him and perform a new baptism in the name of 3 gods instead of a singular Trinity.

  9. Plunging into water is a metaphor for the submersion of sin, just as the great flood submerged the Nephilim. The Holy Spirit is fully involved in the baptismal ceremony.

    God sacrificed an animal in Genesis to cloth Adam & Eve after the fall to sin. The future sacrifice of Jesus is already starting to be revealed.

  10. Call of Abram (Abraham) of the Hebrews from the city of Ur in Chaldea 2,091BC. Israelites in 2,011AD still speak Hebrew dialects. God’s Word & Spirit have done an excellent job of persevering “Israel” for approximately 4,000yrs.

    How many years have the plates of Moroni remained in the presence of the faithful and for how long has their tongue been translation to the faithful? Nephi 1 only goes back to Laban and a single page bounces across 60+ in the Bible and does so inconsistently, where’s about 400+ yrs of the Bible disappear too?

    Anti-Christ and false profits, nations or citizens of the dragon and the bear & Gog and Magog, etc… Ezekiel, Daniel, & Revelation.

  11. Schism of the East/West Catholic Church is the 1st major Catholic “universal” Church in Christ Jesus to split and create doctrines of faith for Western society today.

    Pope Leo 3rd through Pope Pius 10th & Council of Trent through the Roman Catholic Reformation instituted papal infallibility. This is a huge division between traditional “universal” Catholic teachings and the now Roman centered Church around the Pope. Orthodox Churches denounced the Lords’ Supper as metaphoric in nature and cultural rather than Trinitarian and guided by the Holy Spirit much less literal body & blood.

    Buddhist, Roman Catholism, Mormonism, & Jehovah Witness all acknowledge transcending into a god of a Church, realm, patrician of earth, or power over a planet.

  12. Daniel (stinsondw)

    A Biblical Response to Mormons by Matt Slick
    Bachelors in Social Science from Concordia University, Irvine, CA in 1988
    Masters of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary, in Escondido, CA, in 1991
    http://carm.org/biblical-response-to-mormons

  13. Daniel (stinsondw)

    A Pastoral Response to Mormonism in the Public and Political Square
    by Bill Tucker, Senior Pastor, Concordia LCMS, San Antonio, TX 78258
    http://zachmcintosh.com/2011/10/21/a-pastoral-response-to-mormonism-in-the-public-and-political-square/

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