Recently, one of our Warriors posed the question, “Are Mormons Christians, and should we fellowship with them?”. What appeared to be a rather simple question turns out to need a rather lengthy answer in order to make sense. That’s why a reasoned answer will take more than just one post – but not because the answer is complicated, but because of the rather involved investigation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons) required to validate any answer given. So, to start with, we need to dissect the question.
It is really two questions in one: 1) Are members of the LDS church Christians? 2) Should we as Christians fellowship with them?
As usual, any coherent answer must start with having a clear definition of terms. For you to be able to make an informed decision about the validity of my answer, you have to know what I mean by the terms ‘Christian’ and ‘fellowship’. So, we’ll start with a couple of definitions. The greek word translated into English as ‘Christian’ literally means ‘little Christ’; and as originally adopted by the early Church is a very good, concise definition of what it means to be a follower of the Christ when unpacked. A true ‘little Christ’ is a disciple – one who is diligent in living his life consistent with the teachings, attitudes, and actions of the Christ as revealed in the Bible through the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. As such, a Christian will be orthodox in belief and consistent in both speech and action with those beliefs. Fellowship, as generally used among Christians today, in practice most often means nothing more that people with generally like interests getting together for food, fun or both – but that isn’t the primary use of the word in the Bible. Briefly, ‘fellowship’ in Scripture is primarily used to describe the mutual interest, activities, goals, and attitudes shared by Christians as an expression of their fellowship with God through the death and resurrection of Christ. For a more detailed look at ‘fellowship’, I refer you to Easton’s Bible Dictionary and Baker’s Bible Dictionary. So, with that out of the way, the answer to the second question is clear: If Mormons are Christian, then we MUST fellowship with them. If Mormons are not Christian, then we CANNOT fellowship with them. I want to be very clear before I continue. To exclude anyone from fellowship ACCORDING TO THE DEFINITION GIVEN, we are in NO WAY prohibited from being friends with or showing Christ’s love to them. We are ONLY restricted from treating them as brothers and sisters in Christ or presenting them as Christians to others. And, of course, this restriction from fellowship only applies if the LDS church is heretical, cultish, or untruthful in its’ teachings and practice. In order to make an informed assessment of whether members of the LDS church are Christian or not, we need to look at history and doctrines of the organization. Why is it important to examine the history of the church? Because, like orthodox Christianity, the Mormons claim that their religion is both historical and evidential. In other words, they say that their unique sacred texts are historically accurate, and can be verified by secular historical and archaeological evidence. Another claim they make is that their organization presents a ‘reformation of the true gospel’ and all other sects and their doctrines are apostate and abominable:
” 18 My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join. 19 I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight…” – Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith – History 1:18-19
So, if the above statement is true, then the history presented by the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and other Mormon writings considered authoritative should meet the same standards as required of the Bible: any historical references that can be verified by available other sources must agree with those sources or the writings are historically false. If the Mormon scriptures (which both the books themselves and the LDS church claim to be historically accurate) are historically false, then they are also doctrinally suspect. The importance of this point must not be overlooked. If these texts, which the Mormons consider sacred and inerrant, are not accurate in those cases in which their statements can be checked against known facts, then any teaching that does not agree with orthodox Christian doctrine must be discounted as well. That which can be historically verified (the Bible) must take precedence over that which has been historically falsified in other matters as well. On the other hand, if the Mormon texts are historically accurate, then there can be legitimate debate about any doctrinal differences between the LDS teaching and orthodox Christianity. Because both the Bible and the Book of Mormon are presented as containing both spiritual and historical truth, I will examine the historical accuracy of the Book of Mormon before I consider whether their doctrine is Biblically sound. The Bible has proven over the centuries to be so historically accurate that it has been often successfully used as a guide to archaeological studies, and to date many archaeological discoveries have provided convincing evidence to support Biblical accounts while none have done the opposite. We should expect the same track record for the Book of Mormon. If not, its authority in other matters is suspect as well. This principle holds in another area of historical investigation as well; if the history of the Mormon church as presented by the LDS is purposefully inaccurate, then its proclamations on spiritual matters is also false. This is a valid argument because the spiritual authority of the LDS is validated primarily by the early history of the LDS. So, to sum up this introductory post: If the Mormon church gives a consistently accurate presentation of its history as well as its doctrines and the formation of them, then it warrants further investigation into the validity of those teachings. If not, it could be safely said that the teachings of the LDS is suspect even BEFORE being examined for consistency with Biblical doctrine. In part 2, we’ll take a look at the historical claims of the Book of Mormon.