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Why I am a Christian First and a Mormon Second

Guest blogger Bob Rees (who wrote a popular post on temple garments in August) responds to David V. Mason's June New York Times op ed "I'm a Mormon, Not a Christian," saying that Mason "seems so radically different" from how Bob sees himself -- "as emphatically Christian while also being a very genuine Mormon."  --JKR

 

Why I am a Christian First and a Mormon Second

by Bob Rees

For the past several months I have been pondering David V. Mason’s New York Times op-ed piece, “I’m a Mormon, Not a Christian.” Mason, who sees himself “about as genuine a Mormon as you’ll find” and “emphatically not a Christian,” seems so radically different from how I see myself—as emphatically a Christian while also being a very genuine Mormon.

In a lecture I gave at Graduate Theological Union last December titled, “Are Mormons Christian?” I stated, “No other word [“Christian”] so accurately defines Mormons.” As Nephi, a Book of Mormon prophet, declared, “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ” (2 Nephi 25: 23, 26). And in spite of what some Christians contend, the Christ Nephi speaks of and whom Mormons worship is Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the Savior of the world as found in the New Testament.

Mormons consider it ironic that they believe in such core Christian beliefs as the Virgin Birth, the Atonement, and the Resurrection and yet are not considered Christian by some of their fellow believers, whereas many mainline Christians who no longer hold such beliefs are considered so.

For example, various polls taken over the past several decades show that a significant percentage of those who consider themselves Christian do not believe in the Virgin Birth, a belief that is axiomatic for Mormons, especially so because it is affirmed in the Book of Mormon.

A 2006 survey of Americans revealed that only 44 percent of Protestants and 38 percent of Catholics believe in a personal, physical resurrection, a core belief held by a vast majority of Latter-day Saints. To most Mormons such beliefs seem far more radical, and far more determinant as who qualifies as Christian, than do some Latter-day Saint beliefs that others consider heretical.

“Christian” is not an appellation with which one is born or reborn, but rather what one becomes through allegiance to Christ, fidelity to his teachings, and  actively loving and serving others, in spite of theological differences.

I say I am a “Mormon second,” but I am nevertheless Mormon for the primary reason that I find my Christianity broadened and deepened by the doctrines taught in Latter-day Saint scriptures and by Latter-day Saint prophets, and because I find the unique teachings of what might be termed Christian Mormonism compatible with what I find in the gospels. In addition, Mormonism’s teachings about human and divine nature, the universal brother and sisterhood of all humans, and the endurance of family ties in eternity, in the words of the prophet Joseph Smith, “taste good.”

I contend that all religions, Christian and otherwise, would do better to focus not on our differences but rather on what we have in common and to seek fellowship with all who seek to live Jesus’ two great commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . . [and] Love your neighbor as yourself.” As he said, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

 

Robert A. Rees, Ph.D., teaches at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

 

 

Topics: Faith, Doctrine & Practice
Beliefs: Christian, Christian - Catholic, Christian - Orthodox, Christian - Protestant, Amish & Mennonite, Evangelical, Mormon
Tags: are mormons christian, bob rees, david v. mason, flunking sainthood, jana riess, new york times coverage of mormonism, temple garments

Comments

  1. Shalom :  John 14 , 15-26
    The Holy Spirit is The Wisdom of The Father and of The son ,
    for us , for Our Times , Today , Now . I Was Taught to say :
    Come Holy Spirit and Kindle in Me a New Fire of Your Love
    and Knowledge , Concede Me To be full of Your Wisdom ,
    Come Holy Spirit .

  2. Sorry, but Mormonism is NOT a Christian denomination.  There are too many basic differences in the nature of God and Christ, and too many deviations from 2,000 years of orthodox Christianity.  I’m not saying that Mormons are bad, I just saying they are NOT Christians.

  3. @Dale White.  Can you please provide the biblical definition of the term ‘Christian’?  The modern definition was defined centuries after Christ died.  Who’s to say that that definition is the correct one?  The Nicean Creed was a meeting of Catholic clurgy.  Lutherans later claimed that the authority of the Catholics was fraudulent.  Catholics claimed that Protestants weren’t Christian during the reformation.  Protestants claimed that Catholics weren’t Christian.  Today, both claim that Mormons aren’t Christian.  It seems to me that the history of the word ‘Christian’ has been irreverently used throughout history to exclude people who you don’t agree with.  We should sit back and ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?”

  4. I find it dishonest that Rees never mentions the Mormon belief in “eternal progression” - a core belief of Mormons that they (if faithful) will become “christs” and then “gods” someday (and that there is a female god in addition to and subservient to the male God who procreated our souls).  Such beliefs are polytheistic, not monotheistic as are Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  I agree with Dale White that these beliefs do not make Mormons bad, nor are those who believe in Hinduism or tribal religions or the ancients who believed in many gods bad.  But it is not the same religion as what we call “Christianity” today (Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant), whatever you name it.  @Dale White, terms such as “Christianity” become useless if you stretch them to include anything and everything. It is just a label, but even Jesus used labels like “Pharisee” to designate certain groups with common understandings.  Language is useless if there are no common definitions.

  5. @Wayne Hammar, exactly.  If you want to stretch the definition that much, you could say that Islam is a Christian denomination because Jesus is mentioned in the Qur’an.  Jesus in the Mormon religion is vastly different from Jesus in Christian denominations

  6. Again, I would ask the question.  What is the definition of the word ‘Christian’?  Does it derive from the Nicean Creed?  If so, see my post above.  If it is from the Bible, please provide references.  If the definition is simply that one believes in Christ, then Mormons are indeed Christian.  What is everyone’s aversion to that thought?  Mormons read the King James version of the Bible like many other denominations.  If your concern is that the Mormons interpret the Bible differently that other Christian faiths, why then do you allow Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Methodists, Baptists, etc. to call themselves Christian also?  Their doctrines and interpretations varys greatly.  It seems silly to me that I, as a Mormon, am excluded from this definition simply because my beliefs are as different from other Christian faiths as they are from each other.

  7. Ah, but Eric, many if not most fundamentalists and evangelicals don’t think Lutherans, Catholics or the Orthodox are Christian either.  So what chance do you think you’d have serving the ball in their tennis court?

    Time for Mormons to put on their big-boy pants and stop complaining.  Everyone knows you’ll call yourself whatever you like and no one can stop you.  You can’t compell others to call you a Christian and by now you should know it.  Welcome to the big tough world.

  8. By the by, Eric, the Nicene Creed was not composed by a meeting of Catholic clergy—Catholic clergy as such would not exist for another six hundred years.  The Nicene Creed came out of an ecumenical gathering in response to various heresies which threatened to deny the personhood of Christ.  In addition, Lutherans never have questioned the authority of the Apostles, Nicene or Athaniasian Creeds.  What Lutherans have argued about is the authority of tradition in relation to the Scriptures.  Contrary to what many have been taught, the Lutheran Reformers never rejected Catholicism out of hand nor did they think they had obtained a new relevation apart from the received faith of the Church.

  9. Maybe you’re right Mike.  I’m not going to change anyone’s mind.  I know my beliefs are centered on the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  He is my Saviour and He atoned for my sins.  I love Him more than anything in the world.  I am a better person because of him.  I have felt his love for me and my family in ways I cannot begin to describe here.  Who are you or anyone else to tell me that isn’t Christian. 

  10. Mike, I never claimed the Lutherans rejected the Apostles.  I only said the Lutherans rejected the authority of othe Catholic church.  They disagreed that anyone needed to stand between themselves and God.  Just FYI.

  11. As a former moromon (now a Christian), I can attest to the fact that mormons do indeed believe in a vastly different God and vastly different Jesus than those who believe in the Bible.  They use the same terms as Christians, but their definitians are different.  Take the virgin birth.  Here’s a segment from their own every changing doctrine:

    “Christ was begotten by an immortal Father in the same way that mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers.” (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 547)
    “Our Lord is the only mortal person ever born to a virgin, because he is the only person who ever had an immortal Father.” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., p. 822)

    Many mormons are split on if that means the Father came down and actually had sex with Mary.  I do not see this mentioned in the article. 

    They also believe that they will be gods of their own planets, eternally having spirit children, and that god was once a man who had a father-god, who also had a father-god, ad infinitum.  This is not the eternal, all powerful God of the bible.

    Essentially, they bought the originial lie: “Eat of this fruit!  You too can be like God!  You surely will not die!”

  12. It is clear that in an colloquial, non-term-of-art way, Mormons are Christians.  Argument to the contrary is mostly “inside baseball” and anyway, if a person is representing Christian values then they are not against us but for us!

  13. Why doesn’t anybody ask if Mormons think Christians are Christian?  I’m sure there are more interesting answers there then this going around in circles…

  14. @Eric That is easy, a real Christian follows the REAL CHRIST. The early believers were called those of “The Way” or “Christ-ians” as a derrogatory term. There is only ONE TRUE Jesus and Mormons have ‘another’... “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
    As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Gal 1:6-12. Compare The Bible to your ‘book’ and lose the ‘book’.

  15. Eric:  One might as easily retort who are you to tell me you are a Christian?  Personal experience is unreliable and can deceive.  All too often, such “experiences of the divine” are a sign of spiritual death—not life.  Millions belonging to other religions also have felt the love of God and are better persons for it; but that is not a sign they are God’s own but a gift of God’s goodness and mercy.
    Your statements on Lutheranism are faulty as well.  The Reformers never wanted to leave the Catholic Church—they were kicked out.  In fact, the Reformers hoped for a heartfelt reconciliation between themselves and Rome until the day they died.  While it is true Lutherans have long maintained that a priest cannot act as a mediator between God and the Christian, they never rejected the authority of the Church per se.  The central dispute was one of the meaning of the true Gospel and the uses of the Law:  one can save—one cannot.  If the Church, any Church, does not preach the true Gospel, then it is not the Church of Jesus.  The problem with the Catholic Church in the time of the Reformers was that at times she preached to true Gospel and other times it did not.  The Reformers also objected to Rome’s exercise of powers it in fact didn’t have.  Thus when the Church did not act or preach in the light of the Gospel that exercise of authority was invalid.  However, when the Church does act and rightly preach the true Gospel, its authority is authentic. 
    When the Reformers and their followers were ejected from the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church was far from being completely evil and inauthentic.  It was a mixed bag.  Yet, the Holy Spirit never abandoned the Church nor Catholics themselves.  At the same time, when the Reformers were placed outside the Church, the authority of the Catholic Church became no longer binding for all Lutherans.  To this day, what separates Catholics and Lutherans is doctrine.  They have resolved many of their differences; but there is much work left to be done.  It is the sincere hope of most Lutherans that the day will come when the Lutheran Church can return to Rome.  That day appears to be a long way off; but the future may have surprises for us in store.
    It has always been interesting Mormons claim adherence to the Old and New Testaments; but reject the Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds as later, invalid formulations of the Christian faith.  Yet the Creeds actually predate the formulation of the Canon of the Bible.  And what’s more, the same believers within the creedal tradition that Mormons claim was/is a corruption of the true New Testament faith were the very same people who drew the Canon of the Bible together.  Guess what was part of the criteria in determining which books and letters were true expressions of the Christian faith and which were not.

  16. If a Mormon sais and believes they are Christian then they are Christian. No matter how hard you try you can’t take that away from them. Any Mormon I know just laughs when they hear someone say they aren’t Christian. They find it completely comical. Would you care If a Mormon told you that you weren’t Christian? The fact people are on here trying to convince Mormons they aren’t Christian is laughable. Maybe go spend your time doing something more constructive. Anyone who tries to define someone else’s beliefs is insecure in their own.

  17. @Mike Lee,
    Hey Mike. FYI, we believe the Bible as long as it has been translated correctly. You are correct that we believe the authority to act in God’s name was lost sometime between the original 12 and the Nicene Creed. We do believe the original 12 had the authority. The re are some non canonized books that may be of value that were not included. The early eastern and western churches varied in what they canonized. It would be nice to have a perfectly translated, easy to understand (with fewer possible translations), and perfectly correct set of holy books. Too bad we don’t have a perfect Bible but we do have is pretty good and I am grateful for that. In no way do I believe the canon to be perfect. I do however feel that many important books were included. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are fabulous. Have you ever read the Song of Solomon? Have you ever read noncanonized books? However with so many hands changing things and translating, we are lucky to have so many truths preserved. I hope that helps you understand my position as a Mormon. I don’t speak for the Church but this is my understanding.

    Now a few questions about what you wrote. I generally don’t give protestant churches much thought because they in my mind do not have any authority from God to act in his name. Or do they? Or is no authority needed? I want to be fair and listen to what you have to say. How can the Lutheran church decide when the Catholic Church has authority and when it doesn’t? How can the Catholic Church have been a mixed bag? Is it that some people had authority to act in God’s name and some didn’t?

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