Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How Do You Define A "Christian"?

My last post spotlighted the very articulate Latter-day Saint, Rachel Esplin. This post spotlights another video from that very same presentation--the one of Liz Cook (a Presbyterian) speaking about her faith as a Christian. The awkward opening minutes demonstrate the fact that the debate over whether Latter-day Saints are "Christians" is alive and well.

Moreover, "the debate of the definitions" (as I'll call it) continues even among media who specialize in issues of faith. Before introducing Liz Cook (the final one to speak), Sally Quinn (journalist for the Washington Post and founder of "On Faith") speaks of how important it was for her to get someone like Liz because she wanted to make sure that there was at least one Christian on the panel. Rachel Esplin pipes in saying "I'm a Christian". At that point, Ms. Quinn doesn't seem sure how to respond, and fumbles into mentioning how much time is left for the (apparently one and only) Christian on the panel.

I know that many Christians are adamant that Mormons are not "Christian", but what they should really say is that Mormons are heretical Christians. We don't fit the traditional, orthodox mold. And I can agree with not being a part of Traditional Christianity, since I believe in an apostasy and a restoration of original Christianity. But to say that Mormons are not Christian in any sense doesn't recognize our deeply held Christology.

Based on the definition used by Liz Cook (the identified Christian on the panel), I'm pleased to say that Latter-day Saints can certainly fit the label of "Christian". She said that being a Christian "literally means just becoming like Christ...I believe that Jesus Christ is God's Son that He sent to us to save us from our sin...Being a Christian just means being a follower of Christ and trying to develop a relationship with him and with God".

I like her definition. I think a vast majority of Mormons would fit that description. I'd be curious to know what definition Sally Quinn uses. What definition do the majority of Christians use?

On this point of how to define a Christian, it seems that modern Christians need to get their ducks in a row. On the one hand, some want to exclusively define a Christian as only those who conceive of God in Trinitarian terms, despite the fact that the doctrine of the Trinity wasn't hammered out until hundreds of years after the first Christians became Christians (also referred to in the New Testament as "saints"). On the other hand, many (like the Presbyterian in this clip) give a more appropriate definition of a Christian.

If being a Christian "literally means just becoming like Christ...[believing] that Jesus Christ is God's Son that He sent to us to save us from our sin...being a follower of Christ and trying to develop a relationship with him and with God", then I as a Latter-day Saint certainly can't be excluded from the term "Christian". I believe this definition would certainly fit the original "Saints", and I believe it fits well with Latter-day Saints too.

Liz Cook goes on to state: "My most important thing is my identity with Jesus Christ". Amen to that!

Day of Faith: Personal Quests for a Purpose - 6. Liz Cook from Harvard Hillel on Vimeo.

42 comments:

Clean Cut said...

One can also make a case that Mormons themselves need to get their ducks in a row in terms of who properly fits the nickname definition of "Mormon" and whether or not that term can be extended to fundamentalists. As much as I disagree with all branches of fundamentalism, I have no problem whatsoever in extending the term "Mormons" to them, as long as we too can clarify that they are heretical "Mormons". :)

There ought not be a double standard here. In light of how Latter-day Saints believe strongly in having a claim on the term "Christian", I believe we must also extend the same courtesy to non-mainstream Mormon fundamentalists who also claim the nickname.

Nevertheless, this post isn't about defining who is a Mormon, but how one defines a "Christian".

How do you define a Christian?

Tom said...

I personally don't like using the term Christian at all - it has too much baggage. Lately, when appropriate, The term I like better is "disciple of Jesus Christ." But rarely in conversation do I get to make that description of myself.

As for defining Christian, I say a Christian is anyone who believes in Jesus Christ as Lord, God, and Savior. When attempting to make a distinction, I will say "mainstream Christianity" or "traditional Christianity." Even "Protestant Christianity" is a useful term.

Counter question: Are Catholics Christians? I would say yes. But how do "traditional Christians" answer that question?

Bruce in Montana said...

:)
Ok..Ok..I'll bite. Can we fundamentalists start refering to our mainstream Church brothers and sisters as a "monogamous sect"? How about "that large apostate splinter group"? :)
Too funny.

Anyway, I agree with Tom. The term "Christian" is just too broad to be meaningful anymore unless you are distinguishing us from religions that don't revere Christ...like Muslims, Hindus, etc.

Clean Cut said...

Kevin Barney, in "A More Responsible Critique", commended the general tone of "The New Mormon Challenge" as such an improvement over past anti-Mormon books, but he said "the only thing I found really annoying about the book was the continued insistence that Latter-day Saints are in no sense Christian".

Apparently even Craig Blomberg, in a chapter "Is Mormonism Christian?", wanted to use a very private, limited definition of "Christian", despite the more generally understood "public" definition of a Christian as one who is a follower of Jesus Christ, or "one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ" as one dictionary says.

Since the Bible only uses the term "Christian" three times but doesn't offer a formal definition, Blomberg apparently felt that "The World Book Encyclopedia" would be more helpful in defining the term. However, it only says that "most Christians" are either Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox. Since it doesn't mention "Mormons", I guess he felt find excluding us.

Barney responds:

"While it is true that the Latter-day Saints do not claim to be Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox, it is manifestly not the case that they do not claim to be Christian. In the broad and commonly understood sense of the word, the Saints have always considered themselves to be Christians. I am mystified how a scholar of Blomberg's evident intelligence, talent, and sensitivity could so misread this encyclopedia text (which certainly does not make the exclusionist claim Blomberg ascribes to it), or for that matter why he would appeal to an encyclopedia rather than proper lexical materials to deal with this question in the first place. This methodology is more in line with sectarian propaganda than sound scholarship."

"I recently shared the following example with Blomberg in an e-mail correspondence following the appearance of 'The New Mormon Challenge'; I think it illustrates well why simply calling Latter-day Saints non-Christian is inherently misleading. A family with several young daughters used to live in my ward. This family was friendly with a neighbor woman, who would often babysit the girls. As Christmas was approaching, the woman gave each of the girls a Christmas gift, which turned out to be a coloring book featuring Jesus Christ. The girls enjoyed the gift and colored the pictures. Some time later this woman came to the family's home, ashen, and apologized profusely for having given their daughters such a gift. It turns out that the woman had just learned at her church that Mormons are not Christian, and therefore she of course assumed that she had committed a grievous faux pas in giving the girls coloring books featuring a deity their family did not believe in. Now in this story the woman understood the claim that Latter-day Saints are not Christian the same way the vast majority of people would, as meaning that they do not believe in Christ. This is because she naturally applied the public definition to her pastor's words."

"We can see by this story the mischief that results from the semantic legerdemain of calling Latter-day Saints non-Christian. The fact is, they are Christians in the generic sense of the word, even if, from an evangelical point of view, they are theologically in error and unsaved (i.e., being a Christian is not necessarily tantamount to being right). I personally would have no difficulty with certain shorthand distinctions that would make clear that Mormons neither are nor claim to be historic, traditional, creedal, or orthodox Christians. But to say they are not Christians at all without such a modifier is to fundamentally misrepresent the nature of their beliefs. Since one of the goals of 'The New Mormon Challenge' was to avoid such misrepresentations, I was sorely disappointed that it took the position that Latter-day Saints are not Christian in any sense at all. I view this as an intellectually indefensible position, and in my view it severely undermines the credibility of the book."

Javelin said...

Mormons are christians, however we do not believe in the same Christ as many christians do. Ours is a physically different being from the Father. Ours paid for the sins of all man in the garden, instead of on the cross. Ours requires repentance to live in the highest glory of heaven instead of a simple spoken phrase for grace.

That is why other christians have a hard time accepting Mormons as followers of the true Christ.

NM said...

I wonder if I would qualify to be a Mormon?

I believe the same things as you do in relation to the fact that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone and in Christ alone, right? I also believe in the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus - that in his death, He absorbed the wrath of God meant for me, right?

Of course, I'd have a hard time swallowing everything Mr. Smith said...but that's ok though right? Under the above first principles, there's probably enough that would qualify myself as a Mormon, right?

I tithe honestly, not to the Mormon church, but if we're all Christians, what does it matter, right? I hold good recommendations from my elders (Bishop, if you will). I am fully involved in all my church-activities. I teach Sunday school, I occassionally teach seminary classes...

Man, I probably do more than my Mormon counterparts! Surely, I'm a Mormon too, huh?

=)

(Thanks for humouring me on this one, Clean Cut)
NM

Clean Cut said...

Javelin, believing different things about Jesus doesn't make two different Jesus'.

And FYI, the atonement took place on the cross too, not only in the garden.

Clean Cut said...

NM--I don't get it.

Javelin said...

It's not that there are two different Jesus'. Other christians don't believe that Mormons worship the true Son of God. Two people can agree to disagee, but that doesn't mean they buy the other point of view.

True, the atonement was finished on the cross. My point is that the payment was made in the garden. Dying on the cross was only necessary because of prophecy made by past prophets like Isaiah and Nephi. Christ was to suffer all manner of suffering to fulfill the atonement. Christ only had to die to fulfill the atonement through the resurection.

Tom said...

I don't know Javelin, I'm not sure that it's correct to say that the cross was only necessary to fulfill prophecy. Some food for thought:

It depends on how literally you interpret "The wages of sin is death" and "Christ became sin for us." I think He definitely had to die.

Moreover, we have no record of the Father leaving Jesus alone until He was on the cross. I think that was an important part of the atonement - for Christ to not only take the burden of sin, but the EFFECT of the sins, i.e. God withdrawing His presence (because Christ had to experience that part too to know what we would go through).

Also, an important aspect of the Atonement according to Alma 7:11-13 is that Christ would suffer all things "according to the flesh" so that He would know how to succor us.

Also, Talmage taught in Jesus the Christ that the pains of Gethsemane returned while he was on the cross. I'm willing to accept that as Talmage's opinion but I thought I'd throw it out there.

Also, check out Pres. Hinckley's and Elder Holland's perspective on the cross. I'm not sure they make a direct statement about it, but I think they both give the impression that it is more important than just to fulfill prophecy.

Finally, Nephi specifically taught that the Son of God was "slain for the sins of the world." We regularly sing about His hands "pierced and bleeding to pay the debt." I personally believe the victory over sin was not complete, and our sins were not paid for, until He said, "It is finished."

(I don't believe that Heavenly Father had to complete the atonement for sin through the cross, just that He did choose to do it that way, and this it is absolutely a crucial part of the atonement)

Clean Cut said...

Well said, Tom.

James E. Talmage, "Jesus the Christ: A Study of the Messiah and His Mission According to Holy Scriptures Both Ancient and Modern", p.612:

"At the ninth hour, or about three in the afternoon, a loud voice, surpassing the most anguished cry of physical suffering issued from the central cross, rending the dreadful darkness. It was the voice of the Christ: "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" What mind of man can fathom the significance of that awful cry? It seems, that in addition to the fearful suffering incident to crucifixion, the agony of Gethsemane had recurred, intensified beyond human power to endure. In that bitterest hour the dying Christ was alone, alone in most terrible reality. That the supreme sacrifice of the Son might be consummated in all its fulness, the Father seems to have withdrawn the support of His immediate Presence, leaving to the Savior of men the glory of complete victory over the forces of sin and death. The cry from the cross, though heard by all who were near, was understood by few. The first exclamation, Eloi, meaning My God, was misunderstood as a call for Elias."

Bruce R. McConkie takes it even further than just a suggestion, more than just opinion. He states it almost as a self-evident truth in "A New Witness for the Articles of Faith", p.xiv:

"Then the cross was raised that all might see and gape and curse and deride. This they did, with evil venom, for three hours from 9 A.M. to noon. Then the heavens grew black. Darkness covered the land for the space of three hours, as it did among the Nephites. There was a mighty storm, as though the very God of Nature was in agony. And truly he was, for while he was hanging on the cross for another three hours, from noon to 3 P.M., all the infinite agonies and merciless pains of Gethsemane recurred. And, finally, when the atoning agonies had taken their toll-when the victory had been won, when the Son of God had fulfilled the will of his Father in all things-then he said, "It is finished" (John 19:30), and he voluntarily gave up the ghost."

Nephi says: "And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world." He never says anything about a garden. In fact, none of the Nephite prophets ever prophesied that Christ would suffer in a garden.

This doctrine of Christ performing the atonement in the Garden can be directly traced by combining D&C 19:18 and Luke 22:44, and that's pretty much it. I'm not convinced that D&C 19:18 is teaching that Christ suffered the atonement ONLY in the garden and not the cross. I think that interpretation would be reading too much into the text, at the expense of the rest of the scriptures.

I suppose that both places were essential parts of the atonement, or at least that part of the atonement referred to as the Lord's "passion".

I love what Tom said:

"We regularly sing about His hands 'pierced and bleeding to pay the debt.' ["I Stand All Amazed"] I personally believe the victory over sin was not complete, and our sins were not paid for, until He said, 'It is finished.'"

Ditto to that.

Javelin said...

There were two deaths that man needed Christ for. Spiritual death and physical death.

If Christ was killed by another way instead of being nailed on the cross, the spiritual death was already accomplished. The suffering from the roman soldiers and the nailing on the cross were not necessary for the payment of sin after leaving the garden. Remember, Christ was sore amazed when entering the garden. He was feeling the weight of sin. An angel was sent to comfort him in the garden, not on the cross.

In other words, any of us can suffer extreme pain and death from the whips to the torture of being nailed on a cross. None of us can take on the weight of all sin and walk out of that garden.

The atonement is much larger than any human can fully understand, but we can be touched by the holy ghost to know it was and is real.

sundaypage said...

Moving back to the topic of the post, I think the real reason most main-stream Christians have a problem calling us Christians is the denial that we are saved. It's the soteriology that's the problem. For many christians, all they have to do is accept Jesus as their personal Savior to be saved and to become Christian at the same time. But Mormons can't be Christians because that would mean, by definition, that Mormons are saved (heaven forbid)! Consequently, all different kinds of doctrinal, genealogical, and practical criteria are invented for why Mormons are not "technically" Christian.

I really like what a certain pastor said on Fox News last year when Romney's Mormonism was in highlights. This pastor, a Romney supporter, was asked to answer directly whether or not Mormons are Christians. He acknowledged that there were differences and that he did not agree with them on everything, and said that, in his mind, Mormons were not Historical, orthodox, catholic, Trinitarian Christians. His response was very well-crafted, because it satisfied Mormons who call themselves Christians without all those modifying adjectives, and it satisfies traditional Christians, for whom those four adjectives (with appropriate capitalizations) are tantamount to being Christian. Some might see his response as slippery, but what was he supposed to say? The question was loaded! I think it was smart and expertly diplomatic.

Clean Cut said...

sundaypage, I think you're dead on. I was about to express almost the exact same sentiment as your first paragraph.

Also, out of curiosity, do you happen to have a name, quote, or link to the interview you mentioned?

Clean Cut said...

NM--I'm still trying to understand your comment. Do you agree or disagree with Liz Cook's definition of a Christian?

When I say I'm a Christian, I'm certainly not trying to say I'm an Evangelical or a Catholic, any more than you're wanting to say that you're a Mormon or a Catholic when you say you're a Christian. Yet we're both Christians, each in our own way.

Aaron said...

One recent article described how Mormons were viewed only 50 years ago as “countercultural religious zealots who live in Utah with several wives.” As a convert to the church I can understand how the history of the church is still strongly connected to the word “Mormons” today. The church has moved away from its radical past and has tried to appear more main-stream and moderate but I think it will take more time before history really becomes history.

I think the biggest problem is not the church’s history, I think it is the doctrines that are exactly what you said CC – heretical to many Christians. Our church has some beliefs many Christians believe to be false doctrine and on this basis they find it unacceptable for Mormons to be called Christian.

Clean Cut said...

Aaron, thanks for the comment. On a personal note, I'm curious which doctrine(s) convinced you to become a convert in the first place.

Aaron said...

I was only 17 so from a doctrine standpoint I didn’t understand all the details. Even terms like stake center, ward, deacons, teachers and priests were hard to keep straight at first let alone understanding the doctrine. But everything I learned in the missionary discussions inspired me. I thought the story of Joseph Smith as it was told was inspirational. I liked the emphasis on family and the idea of eternal families. I read the Book of Mormon carefully and I liked how it was much easier to understand than the Bible.

I was seeking values in my life at the time. I had some rough years as a teen and it helped to have support in the community of the church to ditch the lifestyle, “friends” and even some family connected to my past.

Clean Cut said...

Despite the fact that your initial views have certainly changed over time, are there still doctrines (or other doctrines) that still inspire you now?

Aaron said...

The basic gospel principles inspire me. The idea that God is our Father, that Jesus Christ is our savior, that we should live a virtuous life are all inspirational doctrines.

But I think it is the values and the people that inspire me the most. Some of the more complicated doctrines I find confusing or weird, and some church history is repulsive. I have concluded the church is like an onion – it has many layers and the deeper you go the more you have to close your eyes and hold your nose.

The youth in the church amaze me. Having come from a background of drugs, alcohol and partying all through High School I have always had great respect for kids who resist pressures even greater than those I faced and still live their lives free of that stuff. Mormon moms are the best. Motherhood is not just a job to them, it’s something they treat with great respect and that shows in the kids as they come of age.

Tom said...

Wow, CC, great quotation from Elder McConkie!

Javelin - I'd be interested to know your basis for saying the victory over spiritual death was complete when Christ left the garden. My understanding is that spiritual death is literally "separation from God," which, according to the scriptures, did not happen for Christ until He was forsaken on the cross.

Also, you are not taking into account the 3rd aspect of the atonement which was to suffer our pains, sicknesses, fatigue, despair, etc. that are not even related to sin, but just come with being mortal.

sundaypage -

I have only recently realized that to a LOT of people out there the term Christian is reserved for those who have been saved. It is ridiculous to me that someone who believes in Christ but has not yet been saved is not Christian.

By that definition there are plenty of people in the pews at EVERY church who are not Christian - they are just casual churchgoers who haven't yet been saved, or weren't sincere when they confessed Christ.

Frero said...

WOW! I dont get it... A christian should be labeled as someone who believes in God. We believe in God. there ya have it. lol

UnderstandingBookofMormon

gloria said...

Hi, clean cut,

I think that no matter how much the LDS sincerely try to convince people otherwise, they are not seen as a Christian denomination. I am saying that not to offend, but in all honesty and sincerity. The reason being is because of the theology the LDS church has about "who" the person of Jesus is, is so radically different than what Christians believe and their beliefs on "who" God is are so radically different than what Christianity professes and believes.

This video clip shows how the young LDS student, as sincere as she was.. just was not taken seriously , in her attempts to portray herself as a "christian". They really just brushed her off. It was kind of tacky , I thought at least. They could have at least recognized her saying that, but they didn't.

I think that is telling.

As a Christian who was a former mormon, I can tell you this... every Christian ( and I know many) I know does not consider Mormonism part of the Christian faith. It may be painful to hear that, but it is the truth.

What I don't understand is "why" should LDS care? Why do LDS care if the whole of Christendom considers them a non christian faith? In the past the LDS church was not as concerned about gaining the approval or "stamp" from Christians, but it seems like the tide is turning.

I would think LDS would be proud of being radically different than Christians. that is how they have built their church -- by proclaiming a truly unique theology.

Now they want to fit in? Now they want to be part of the group? It just doesn't work that way.

In order for the LDS to be included in Christendom, they would really need to drop some of their key doctrines, and I don't see that happening any time soon.

What can you expect? If you have 55k + missionaries out there each day telling the world that Christianity is "apostate" do you really expect the Christian people to embrace your theology as authentic?

Something to ponder upon,

Gloria

Clean Cut said...

Gloria, read the quote by Kevin Barney again (in the fourth comment down). Perhaps that will help explain why we care. I think you misunderstand our motivation.

It's not about "fitting in", it's about being portrayed accurately--as those who are essaying to be saints/disciples of Jesus Christ.

One question I'm left with, Gloria, is how you're defining a Christian?

Moreover, what does the term "Christian" mean to you? Is it really more about proper theology than a relationship to the Lord and Savior?

Clean Cut said...

One more question. Are we to define "Christian" by majority rules? If the majority of people conceive of God in trinitarian terms (even if they can't pin that down in any unified or logical manner), then is everybody else excluded?

Are you saying that by default, "majority rules" should properly place only Trinitarians as "Christians" and no one else should be taken seriously?

And if so, did you read my original post?

gloria said...

Hi clean cut,

Thanks for taking time to respond.

I think the bottom line , at least for me, and I can not speak for the rest of Christendom on this is "who" you believe God is. If a person, as sincere as they appear to be, does not have the facts about "who" God is, how can they possibly have a relationship with someone they really don't understand completely?

Does that make sense?

The reason why I personally categorize the LDS faith as non-Christian is because of their theology. Their doctrines about the person of God, is very different than what the Bible teaches and what Christians profess and declare.

You mentioned the word : "heretical christianity".. ... that may be closer to the truth...
or perhaps a church whose roots stemmed from Christianity ( meaning it's founder Joseph Smith was knowledgeable about the Bible, etc.).

My question to you is "why" even care? I mean for year and years the LDS have sought to be different than the rest of Christianity. To not be lumped in with them, and now they want that ?

I guess I just don't understand "why". LDS missionaries go around declaring that traditional Christianity is apostate and that our creeds are false, and our ministers corrupt. How can you expect to be embraced, clean cut as the same?

I will go back and read the quote you mentioned. Perhaps that will help me to understand.

In all sincerity and with respect, Clean Cut - the gospel of the LDS people is radically different than Biblical Christianity. So different, that for the majority of Christians they would not even lump mormonism in with the historic Christian faith.

I would think LDS would be proud of that in a sense. They have always claimed a different gospel, a different message, so why not continue to preach the uniqueness of your message without worrying about being included into the Body of christ?

I don't see that happening, ( being included) any time in the near future.

With all due respect, - thank you for letting me share here. :)

Gloria

Clean Cut said...

Gloria, with all due respect, you're not "getting it". We can have a discussion about our differences in theology and that's just fine with me. But the post here is about how you define a Christian.

You and I each believe the Bible and all the biblical facts about who God is. Where we differ is in interpretation.

Have you read the quotation yet? It really is custom made for someone like you:

"A family with several young daughters used to live in my ward. This family was friendly with a neighbor woman, who would often babysit the girls. As Christmas was approaching, the woman gave each of the girls a Christmas gift, which turned out to be a coloring book featuring Jesus Christ. The girls enjoyed the gift and colored the pictures. Some time later this woman came to the family's home, ashen, and apologized profusely for having given their daughters such a gift. It turns out that the woman had just learned at her church that Mormons are not Christian, and therefore she of course assumed that she had committed a grievous faux pas in giving the girls coloring books featuring a deity their family did not believe in. Now in this story the woman understood the claim that Latter-day Saints are not Christian the same way the vast majority of people would, as meaning that they do not believe in Christ. This is because she naturally applied the public definition to her pastor's words."

"We can see by this story the mischief that results from the semantic legerdemain of calling Latter-day Saints non-Christian. The fact is, they are Christians in the generic sense of the word, even if, from an evangelical point of view, they are theologically in error and unsaved (i.e., being a Christian is not necessarily tantamount to being right). I personally would have no difficulty with certain shorthand distinctions that would make clear that Mormons neither are nor claim to be historic, traditional, creedal, or orthodox Christians. But to say they are not Christians at all without such a modifier is to fundamentally misrepresent the nature of their beliefs."

Can you see now why I care? For someone so interested in "truth", it's so important not to be misleading.

I still fear you greatly misunderstand our motivation here. This is NOT about being Christians the same as you. Please let me repeat that. We're not trying to say we're just like you! I want to be very clear on this, and not misunderstood. We're not wanting to be embraced as synonymous with the "historic Christian faith". Please refer to the links in this post. Perhaps you'd even find this post enlightening: Are Mormons Christians? Are Post Toasties corn flakes?.


We LDS Christians have a unique and wonderful Christian message: Christ has restored His gospel! I understand why you would claim it's a "different gospel", because people ultimately think they're right and others are wrong. But this isn't about who's wrong and who's right. It's about defining the term "Christian".

You still have not done that.

gloria said...

Hi,clean cut --

Appreciate you taking time to share and help me understand where you are coming from.

I hear you and can see your point .

What about the fact that LDS missionaries go door to door, even telling Christians that their religions are apostate and their views wrong? What do you say about this? That is huge for us.

I think the divide is wide, Clean Cut. Very wide.

I would not define the LDS faith as traditional Biblical Christianity. I would more or less lump it with "restorationist" movements - the SDA being another restorationist church. Not sure if you know much about the SDA church?

If someone would ask me if I felt the LDS faith was a Christian faith I would say "no" not in the traditional sense. But "yes" in a non biblical sense. I hope that makes some sense to you.

Clean Cut, I appreciate you taking time to share and exchange ideas. you are always courteous and thoughtful and I so appreciate that.


Kind regards & have a fabulous weekend,
gloria

Clean Cut said...

"What about the fact that LDS missionaries go door to door, even telling Christians that their religions are apostate and their views wrong? What do you say about this?"

Is that what LDS missionaries explicitly do? That's not how I'd choose to describe what I did as a missionary. I went door to door in the spirit of love and desiring to share something that had completely blessed and enriched my life. I felt like Lehi, who in vision was lead to the Tree of Life which represented the love of God:

"And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit."

Having tasted of “good fruit”, I wanted others to be able to enjoy it too. Joseph Smith once said that “a man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.” That’s why I left the comforts of home for two years and went to Ecuador hoping to be a blessing to others. I was told that “faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God” qualified missionaries for the work of gathering God’s elect, and those were the attributes I strove to have.

Are you referring to the implicit suggestion that if by going door to door to proclaim the restored gospel, others are implicitly “apostate” and or “wrong”? I don’t see much of a difference between that and what Christianity in general says to other religions, or what the Catholic church implicitly suggests to Protestants, or even what Evangelicals to Mormons. Don’t they essentially say the same thing? To a degree, doesn’t everyone believe that they’re “right” and others are “wrong”?

I happen to really appreciate our former President Hinckley’s approach that others should bring all of the good and the truth that they have, and just see if we can add anything to it. We don’t need to tear anybody down before we can build them up. Truth is truth, no matter where it comes from, even if various churches are “wrong”. Never at any time would I have said that someone’s personal Christian faith was insufficient—only that they could add to it by embracing the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

By any means, I’m not asking for you to describe “how wide the divide” is or whether or not you think the LDS faith matches up with what’s in the Bible. I’m asking how you personally define a “Christian”. What is a “Christian” to you?

Javelin said...

It seems this thread is proving my post about how Mormons believe in a different Christ. Other christians cannot accept the fact that Mormons believe in the true God.

Clean Cut said...

I'll I'm going to say about that, Javelin, has already been said: The Mormon Jesus and the Love of God.

Tom said...

I was really hoping Gloria would come back and actually define "Christian."

Gloria said she wouldn't define Mormonism as traditional Biblical Christianity. Neither would I. Nor do I want to be a part of traditional Biblical Christianity. That version of Christianity didn't exist until ca. 393 AD.

Strip away the descriptors, Gloria. I don't care about tradition. Christianity existed WAY before the Bible. What does "Christian" or "Christianity" originally mean? In the first century, I think it meant someone who was a disciple of Jesus Christ.

THAT is why I want people to know and acknowledge me as a Christian. Above all else I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Clean Cut said...

Amen, Tom. I've written before that "above all things, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. And as imperfect as I am, I'm trying to be a good one" (“Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God").

It would seem to me that it should be a very simple thing for any Christian to define what a "Christian" is. Based on the fact that no "traditional" biblical Christian has taken me up on the offer to do this (if they indeed disagree with the one in the original post) seems to suggest that they must simply accept the fact that a Mormon can simultaneously be a Christian.

And if they can't accept that fact, then I dare them to give me a credible definition of a Christian that wouldn't also exclude the original New Testament Christians.

Once again, I come full circle. I am a Mormon. I am a Christian.

brooke said...

Hi Clean Cut,
I just came across your blog for the first time (as I've recently gotten into blogging) and thought this topic of conversation was pretty interesting, and with your permission, would like to comment.

I consider myself a Biblical Christian, but I think defining a Christian is difficult, because we all come from different backgrounds and upbringings, believe different things and thus there can be more than just a few definitions.

You could use a very broad definition of Christian, which many cultural Christians would use, by defining a Christian as someone who "believes in Christ."

But, what does that really mean? Someone who believes Christ lived and was a person? Someone who believes He was a prophet? Someone who believes Him to be our Savior? Or does it mean we believe Jesus Christ is our Lord, equal in power and majesty, un-created, as we believe God the Father is?

In a broad definition, Mormons are definitely Christians. They believe Jesus Christ lived and they cannot gain salvation without Him and His sacrfice.

But, I think the way Evangelical and Non-Denominational Christians define a Christian in a narrower definition, as someone who not only believes in Christ, but has a *relationship* with Christ, or knows Christ in a much more personal way than just a belief or a doctrine. My guess is that Gloria is defining a Christian in this manner. I am aware that Mormons believe they have a relationship with Christ as well (at least, this is what my Mormon friends tell me), but from my "Christian" perspective, how does one have a relationship with Christ without praying TO Him?

At least for me, that's what makes the difference. Not just believing in Christ, but knowing Him. I hope that's helpful...

Clean Cut said...

Welcome, Brooke! Thank you for the comment!

“In a broad definition, Mormons are definitely Christians. They believe Jesus Christ lived and they cannot gain salvation without Him and His sacrifice.”

I appreciate this honest acknowledgement. So do you think the majority of regular people in the pews use the “broad definition” or multiple narrow definitions according to their own preference?

“I think the way Evangelical and Non-Denominational Christians define a Christian in a narrower definition, as someone who not only believes in Christ, but has a *relationship* with Christ, or knows Christ in a much more personal way than just a belief or a doctrine.”

Interesting. I suppose under that definition, I know some Mormons who wouldn’t qualify, and I know many who would. I also know of some “traditional” Christians who wouldn’t qualify to be a Christian. I even know of some who consider themselves Christian merely because of their religious pedigree/history, but don’t even personally acknowledge Jesus Christ’s divinity!

I also agree with you that there’s a difference between people who merely “believe IN Christ” and those really know Him and have come to “believe Christ”, trust Him, and rely on Him. I think once we’ve personally been changed by the power of the Master, we desire that others will be likewise changed by Him and His “good news". Candidly, there are many who still need to be “born again” even within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’m sure this is also the case within other traditional Christian denominations as well.

“From my "Christian" perspective, how does one have a relationship with Christ without praying TO Him?”

Remember, however, that it was Christ Himself who taught us to pray to our Father in Heaven in His [Christ’s] name. I count it a great blessing that in the name of Jesus Christ, I can approach my Heavenly Father directly and converse with Him almost as one man converses with another.

Did you know that even among Christians, though, there is a debate of who to pray to? The Father or the Son or the Holy Ghost? If they are all God, which one is it? Peter Kreeft talks about this. Also, check out this: The Peril of Praying to the Trinity.

While as Latter-day Saints we offer formal prayers after the manner that Christ taught, I would submit to you that it’s not that clear cut for us to say that we don’t pray in ANY way to Jesus. I would submit that if our thoughts can be considered a form of prayer (which I think they can) then perhaps it’s not all that foreign for Latter-day Saints to “pray”, in a sense, to Jesus. For example: "Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not" (D&C 6:36).

I personally feel that if both the Father and the Son are united as one in purpose and in mind, then either one of them can hear and answer our prayers. Consider this teaching from the Book of Mormon prophet Alma to his son. After preaching “repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ”, he goes on to say:

“Cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever. Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good” (Alma 37:36-37). Elsewhere in our scriptures Jesus Christ specifically says “I have heard your prayers” (D&C 38:16)

Clean Cut said...

I guess this would also depend on how loosely we define “prayer”. Can a hymn about Jesus be considered a prayer? I would say so. “For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me” (D&C 25:12) and heaven knows so many of our hymns are centered on Jesus Christ. Furthermore, so much of divine strength and grace we receive comes through the power of the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Anyway, just some food for thought.

One other thing I’d like to stress, though, is that I don’t believe prayer is the only way to come to know Jesus Christ. We can also come to know Him by reading His words. We can come to know Him by serving Him. “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” (Mosiah 5:13).

And we can serve Him by serving others. “I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).

We show forth works of love, giving "grace for grace", extending love and grace to others as we have been blessed by His grace and love. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another”. (John 13:35). And perhaps that’s the best way to recognize a true Christian.

I suppose it doesn’t matter one bit if anyone else thinks I’m a Christian. But I sure hope that my Savior and Lord Jesus Christ thinks I am. One thing I do know is that I’m married to a true Christian. In fact, I’m married to an angel. If she doesn’t know the Lord and have a relationship with Him, then I don’t know anyone who does.

Tom said...

CC - some nice thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

Brooke - I agree with Clean Cut that there are more ways to know the Savior than praying to Him.

I don't think praying to Jesus is "wrong" in the Mormon paradigm. Clean Cut gave a few good examples. A few more are Alma 36 where Alma prays to Jesus, several different chapters in 3 Nephi where the people pray to Jesus, and DC 109 where Joseph Smith prays to Jehovah in the dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple.

Formally, we are taught to pray to the Father in Christ's name, which is what Jesus taught, but we aren't told "Never pray to Jesus."

I have found myself on several occasions crying out to my Savior for forgiveness of sins.

Anonymous said...

Just a little food for thought: in the same way that you don't want to be called non-Christian and have people assume you don't follow Christ, evangelicals don't want Mormons to be called Christians and have people assume they follow 'the same' Christ. There's the conundrum.

Clean Cut said...

Yet, at what point did evangelicals earn the copyright to the term "Christian"? I wasn't aware that there was a monopoly on the term. Seems to me that denying the term Christian to anyone or any faith group that believes salvation is found only in and through the name of Jesus Christ can be called a "Christian".

My suggestion: Feel free to add whatever other modifiers/descriptors to the term Christian you feel necessary and appropriate. Neither one of us would want anyone to mistake a Mormon Christian for an Evangelical Christian...

kelark said...

My son's middle name is Christian I suppose that because that is his name that makes him one.

CC no copyright just first right of refusal. If today a guy started a chuch named New and Modern Muslims and the Prophet was named Mohamed but he came from New Jersey in 1947 and he preached Mormon doctrine.

Would he be justified in calling himself a Muslim?

Would traditional Muslims be justified in saying that he is not a true Muslim?

Yes I know extreme example but the point is calling things fudmentally different the same thing does not make it so no matter what you believe to be so.

Wow I don't even understand that!!!

Clean Cut said...

Kelark, let's start with the original question.

How do you define a Christian?

Clean Cut said...

See LDS Newsroom Blog: "Are Mormons Christians?" by Nate Nielson