Mormon Claims to Be Christian
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims to be Christian in nature and teaching. In fact, members of this church (commonly called “Mormons”) can become quite offended when this belief is denied. But given the fact that many today deny that the Mormon church is truly a Christian church (but rather classify it as a pseudo-Christian religion), several well-educated Mormons have taken it upon themselves to defend this claim. Some prominent examples of this would be the following:
#1. We Are Christians Because. . ., by Robert E. Wells (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Books, 1985). Mr. Wells has been a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of the Mormon church since October of 1976.
Wells observes, “many people have never made the connection between the nicknames ‘Mormon,’ ‘LDS,’ or ‘Latter-day Saints’ and the full, proper, official name of the church: ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.’ To members of the Church, it may come as a surprise to learn that there are many people in the world who do not know that the Mormons are Christians. In fact, there are organized and well-financed 1 efforts to confuse the public through erroneous statements that the Church is a non-Christian sect whose members do not believe in Christ” (p. vii). In fact, the intention of Wells’ book is “to dispel any doubts that we [Mormons] are Christians” (ibid).
#2. Are Mormons Christians?, by Stephen E. Robinson (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1991). Mr. Robinson has studied both at Brigham Young University and Duke University, where he received his Ph.D. in Biblical Studies (where he has also taught). He has been the chairman of the Department of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University since 1991. He has published a book with the Society of Biblical Literature, The Testament of Adam; as well as various articles in Revue de Qumran, Journal for the Study of Judaism, The Coptic Encyclopedia, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, and The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.
Robinson writes, “If the term Christian is understood to mean someone who believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and the Savior of the world, and who believes that the Old and New Testaments contain his teachings, then the Mormons are Christians. It is simply a matter of historical record that the Latter-day Saints affirm all these propositions. Although the Latter-day Saints may differ in details of doctrinal interpretation . . . they certainly share in the basic taxonomic similarities of the class” (p. 4).
He further summarizes, “In summary, most of the time the charge that Latter-day Saints are not Christians has absolutely nothing to do with LDS belief or nonbelief in Jesus Christ, or with LDS acceptance or rejection of the New Testament as the word of God. If the term Christian is used, as it is in standard English, to mean someone who accepts Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of the world, then the charge that Mormons aren’t Christians is false. However, if the word Christian is used in a sectarian sense to mean belief in Christ or in the New Testament according to a particular denominational view, then the charge is trivial and uninformative; it is merely another way of saying Latter-day Saints don’t agree with the denomination making the charge. Typically those who define Christian in the latter sense exclude not only Mormons but also any individual who may disagree with them, whether that individual puts faith in Jesus Christ or not. All but the narrowest ideologues ought to be able to detect the logical fallacies involved in the exclusion by definition” (p.7). 2
#3. Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints, by Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City, UT: Aspen Books, 1992). Mr. Peterson teaches Islamic Studies and Arabic at Brigham Young University. He earned a doctorate in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA, he serves on the Gospel Doctrine Writing Committee for the Mormon church (meaning that he contributes to the church’s curriculum) and is a member of the board of directors of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (F.A.R.M.S.). Mr. Ricks is associate professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages at Brigham Young University. He earned his doctorate in Near Eastern Religions at the University of California, Berkeley and Graduate Theological Union. He is currently the chairman of F.A.R.M.S.
Peterson and Ricks write, ” We reject in the strongest possible way the false declaration that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is non-Christian. We declare, in the strongest words that we can find to do so, that Mormons are Christian, and that Mormonism is a Christian faith” (p. 16). 3
These are only a few of the many titles published in recent years (not to mention those which are much older) attempting to vindicate the Mormon claim that the their church truly is a Christian church. In fact, they go beyond that: they claim that the Mormon church is the one true Christian church.
In this essay we will focus on certain elements of the Mormon doctrine of Jesus Christ. This is not intended to be a comprehensive investigation; but we do hope that it will be helpful and enlightening to those who have either heard or wondered whether or not the Mormon church is truly a Christian church.
Biblical Distinctions Regarding True and False Christs
To begin with, we must see clearly that the Bible declares a distinction between the only true Jesus Christ and those that are false. Several passages declare this.
2 Corinthians 11:3-4. “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.”
Matthew 24:4-5, 24. “And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. . . . For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.”
1 John 4:1-3. “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.”
So we see that there is a distinction between the true Jesus Christ and false christs. We even see that one can claim to preach “Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4), and yet be preaching falsehood and deception.
One fairly effective way I have been able to communicate the importance of the biblical distinction to Mormons is through the following type of dialog.
Mormon: But we are Christians!
Christian: What do you mean by “Christian?”
M: One who follows Jesus Christ.
C: Which Jesus Christ?
M: What do you mean?
C: I mean that there is the true Jesus Christ and there are false Jesus Christs.
C: The apostle Paul warned about people who would come and preach “a different Jesus” in Second Corinthians chapter eleven. And he states in that passage that such people also preach “a different gospel” and bring “a different spirit” — which is not the Holy Spirit of God. He even says that such people are false apostles and deceitful workmen, and that they are merely masquerading as apostles of Christ but that they are really servants of Satan, who masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:3–4, 13–15).
M: But we believe that Jesus is the Christ.
C: But do you believe in the true Jesus?
M: Well. . .
C: Let me explain. You have heard of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, right?
C: Well, they are Christians, right?
M: Not exactly!
C: Why do you say that?
M: Because they believe that Jesus was Michael the Archangel.
C: But they believe in Jesus, don’t they?
M: Oh, I see what you mean. They have an unscriptural understanding of who Jesus Christ is?
C: Yes. That’s it. If someone has an unbiblical understanding of who Jesus Christ is, are they truly Christians? Do they believe in the true Jesus Christ?
M: No, they are can’t be true Christians if they believe in a false Christ.
C: That’s right. If someone believes in a Jesus other than the true Jesus, they cannot be Christians.
This type of dialog is generally quite effective in laying the groundwork for showing that the Mormon church is not truly Christian, and that Mormons are not true Christians . . . because they believe in an unbiblical Christ — a false Christ.
It is of interest to note (as we did above) that many contemporary Mormon apologists strongly object to the claim that Mormons are not Christians because they believe in a false Christ. They clearly understand the implications here: Mormons would therefore not have salvation. While it is common for these apologists to develop quite elaborate arguments which counter this claim, some Mormons do see the importance of worshiping the true Jesus Christ over against false christs. For example, Elder Bernard P. Brockbank, of the First Quorum of the Seventy, while speaking at General Conference, referred to a London Times article that stated, “In fact, there is good reason for regarding them [the Latter-day Saints, Mormons] as a new religion rather than as another variety of Christianity. . . . the Christ followed by the Mormons is not the Christ followed by traditional Christianity.” 4
While rejecting the thesis of the London Times article, Mr. Brockbank supplied the following discriminating comment,
It is true that many of the Christian churches worship a different Jesus Christ than is worshiped by the Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For example from the Church of England’s Articles of Religion, article one, I quote: “There is but one living God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions. . . .” We cannot obtain salvation and eternal life by worshiping fake Christs. . . . The belief that God has no body parts, and passions is not a doctrine of Jesus Christ or a doctrine of the holy scriptures but is a doctrine of men, and to worship such a God is in vain. 5
Other church leaders have discriminated along the very same lines. Consider LeGrand Richards, an apostle of the Mormon church. In his classic Mormon apologetic, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, Mr. Richards outright condemns the orthodox Christian view of God. Supplying the headings, “The Worship of False Gods” and “The Strange Gods of Christendom,” he levels the clam of idolatry in violation of the first three Commandments at both Protestants and Catholics. 6
So we see, even though contemporary Mormon apologists object to the distinction between those who believe in the true Christ and false christs, they stand out of line with both clear biblical distinctions and earlier Mormon leaders. And, as we have seen, this is quite understandable given the fact that if Mormons worship a false christ, then they cannot be saved. For it is not mere faith that saves one, but the object of that faith.
The worship of a false christ is a common thread in all pseudo-Christian religions. Thus it is important to note that while these groups use our vocabulary, they do not use our dictionary. They use the same words, but the definitions have been radically altered. The following contrasts will illustrate clearly the differences between Mormon doctrine and biblical doctrine regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ. In this essay, we will focus on only a couple contrasts, though we could easily produce a book on this topic alone.
Mormon doctrine asserts that all human beings have always existed as raw intelligences prior to their existence as the spirit offspring of God. This is also believed of Christ: “Implicit in his spirit birth as the Firstborn is the fact that, as with all the spirit children of the Father, he had a beginning; there was a day when he came into being as a conscious identity, as a spirit entity, as an organized intelligence.” McConkie further explains, “How then is he the Eternal One? It might be said that he is eternal, as all men are, meaning that spirit element — the intelligence which was organized into intelligences — has always existed and is therefore eternal.” 7 So Christ is eternal, just as everyone else is eternal, but he was also the firstborn of the Father’s spirit children. Though, it must be clear, he is not uniquely eternal.
Milton Hunter adds the following regarding the preexistent Christ: “The appointment of Jesus to be the Savior of the world was contested by one of the other sons of God. He was called Lucifer, son of the morning. . . . This spirit-brother of Jesus desperately tried to become the Savior of mankind.” 8 But unlike all other spirit-brothers and sister, Jesus is uniquely the only begotten son. Talmage explains, “Jesus Christ is the Son of Elohim both as spiritual and bodily offspring; that is to say, Elohim is literally the Father of the spirit of Jesus Christ and also of the body in which Jesus Christ performed His mission in the flesh.” 9
So Jesus was initially an intelligence, just as was everyone else; then he became a spirit son of the Father in heaven (along with his wives); then he became the Savior of mankind, in contrast to his spirit-brother Lucifer; then he came in a fleshy body (one produced by his heavenly Father) to be the Savior of mankind.
Mormon doctrine immediately faces philosophical problems in that an infinite regress is impossible. But the Mormon doctrine of an infinite series of intelligences leads just to such an infinite series. Thus there was no first cause in such a series, which is incompossible. But apart from such philosophical dilemmas, Mormon doctrine is clearly at odds with biblical doctrine.
The Bible is unequivocally monotheistic.
Deuteronomy 6:4. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.” (Cf. Mark 12:24)
Isaiah 43:10–11. “Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no savior.”
Isaiah 44:6–8. “Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and shall come, let them shew unto them. Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.”
1 Corinthians 8:4–6. “As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.”
This teaching in and of itself rules out the possibility of Jesus having spirit-brothers in the preexistence, for Mormon doctrine requires the Father to have a wife (or wives) in order to produce such offspring. But since there is only one God, the concept of a ‘Mother in heaven’ is disallowed. Besides, if God does not know of any other true gods (Isa. 44:8), then there aren’t any.
Jesus As God Is the Creator
Rather than Jesus (as God) being created, the Bible presents him as the One through whom all things were created.
John 1:3. “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.”
Colossians 1:16–17. “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”
Hebrews 1:2–3. “Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
So, rather than being able to say that Jesus in his divine nature is a created being, one who became a god, we are constrained to acknowledge that Christ is God uncreated.
Jesus Was Conceived of a Virgin
Mormon doctrine leads to a denial of the virgin conception 10 of Christ. If Christ is the “bodily offspring” of the Father, as Talmage asserted above, then this denies the virginal conception of Christ. For Mormonism teaches that God has a body of flesh and bone as tangible as man’s (Doctrine and Covenants, section 130). 11
Isaiah 7:14. “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Matthew 1:23. “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (The important point here is that “a virgin shall be with child,” not that “a woman who was a virgin until she knew a man shall conceive a child.”)
Luke 1:27ff. “To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” (It is clear from this passage that Mary had known (sexually) no man, not even an exalted one with flesh and bones. This shows clearly that the conception itself was miraculous and that Mary remained a virgin after the conception.)
We have only surveyed a few of the contrasting elements between Mormon doctrine and biblical doctrine; but it should be clear by now that Mormons and Christians worship different christs. The biblical Christ stands in sharp distinction to the christ of Mormonism. Therefore we must declare that no matter how often, no matter how strongly, no matter how resolutely Mormons claim to be Christians, as long as they hold fast to the Mormon doctrine of christ, they are clearly deceived in their faith. Thus they are in danger of hearing the words of Jesus Christ in the last day (Matt. 7:21-23): “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.'”
My prayer for Mormons is that they will be enabled by God’s Holy Spirit to examine the beliefs of their church by the Holy Bible. May they come to a true and saving knowledge of the real Jesus Christ, who lived, died, and rose again for the salvation of his people.
Kevin James Bywater is a former fifth-generation Mormon. He was born and raised in Brigham City, Utah. His aunt and uncle (who are former Mormons) witnessed to him for a period of over three years (now that’s persistence!). In late 1987 God showed his love toward Kevin in that he gave him eyes to see and ears to hear the truth. God also gave Kevin a heart to believe and trust in Christ Jesus alone for his salvation.
We pray that our great and gracious heavenly Father will richly bless you as you seek to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ Jesus our Lord (2 Corinthians 10:5) and speak the truth in love to your Mormon friends.
- This note of Wells is somewhat laughable given that any organized ‘anti-Mormon’ groups are mere fleas compared to the elephant of Mormonism.
- In reading Robinson’s material it becomes evident that he either totally misunderstands the charge that Mormons are not Christians or he cunningly evades the core of the charge. I believe it is the latter. Throughout his book he equivocates on the word “Jesus Christ.” His claim that Mormons believe in Jesus Christ is without much import unless he defines who Jesus is according to biblical standards. Merely quoting Webster or some other standard will not do; they simply state that a Christian is someone who believes in Jesus. But sidesteps the very issue at stake: In which Jesus do they believe?
- Of course, merely saying so doesn’t make it so; and they know that. Hence a full-length book attempting to defend their declaration.
- As quoted by Bernard P. Brockbank, in “The Living Christ,” Ensign 7 (May, 1977): 26–27. It should be noted that the Mr. Brockbank, speaking as a General Authority of the church, and speaking during a General Conference, is thus speaking authoritatively. Besides, Ensign is an official publication of the Mormon church.
- LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company, 1950), pp., 12–14. It is telling to note that while Robinson can say that the word “cult” cannot legitimately apply to the Mormon church, Mormon prophet Joseph Fielding Smith did not hesitate to use the term as descriptive of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and other early off-shoot groups that claim to faithfully follow Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon (Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1954], 1:247ff.).
- Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1978), p. 165.
- Milton Hunter, Gospel Through the Ages (Salt Lake City: Stevens and Wallis, 1945), p. 15.
- James Talmage, Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1974), p. 466.
- I intentionally write of the “virgin conception,” since I desire to be precise. Biblical revelation does not lead one to affirm that Mary was perpetually virgin. The miracle lay in the conception of Christ, not in his actual birth (which was as natural as any other; and being so, we have reason to believe that Mary was no longer a virgin).
- God has always been God (Genesis 21:33; Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 40:28). God is spirit, not an exalted man with flesh and bone (John 4:24; Luke 24:39; Hosea 11:9; Numbers 23:19; Romans 1:22–23; Isaiah 45:12). God does not change (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17), nor does he grow in knowledge (Isaiah 40:13). There is none like him, he is unique, he is the only true God (Exodus 8:10; 2 Samuel 7:22; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6–8; 45:5, 21–22; 46:9; 1 Corinthians 8:5). (Note that though Jesus, being God, did become human in his incarnation [John 1:1, 14], this is quite different from a man progressing to become a god.) We also see the following teaching in the Bible: Men cannot become gods (Isaiah 43:10). Man is a created being, unlike God-who has always been (Genesis 21:33). God will not share his glory with another (Isaiah 42:8). Humans are created, not procreated (Genesis 1:26; 2:7). We come into existence in the womb of our mothers (Psalm 139:13). Humans cannot compare themselves to Jesus and his preexistence, for they are not deity by nature, as is Jesus. He preexisted because he is God (Isaiah 9:6; John 1:1; 17:5; Philippians 2:6–7). He alone is from heaven, we are from the earth (John 3:13, 31; 8:23–24).