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"Mormonism" and Christendom
Do Latter-day Saints believe that they are the only Christians?
W. John Walsh
Robert L. Millet
Joseph Fielding McConkie
Van Hale and Bill Forrest
by W. John Walsh
Those from competing religions often attempt to convince the public that Latter-day Saints are intolerant and hostile to people who are not members of their Church. In reality, Latter-day Saints are encouraged to reach out and befriend nonmembers of our Church, regardless of differences between our belief systems. President Gordon B. Hinckley has said:
"We can respect other religions, and must do so. We must recognize the great good they accomplish. We must teach our children to be tolerant and friendly toward those not of our faith. We can and do work with those of other religions in the defense of those values which have made our civilization great and our society distinctive.
For instance, there recently came to my office a Protestant minister who is a most effective leader in the unending battle against pornography. We are grateful for him. We join with him and his associates. We give financial support to his organization.
We can and do work with those of other religions in various undertakings in the everlasting fight against social evils which threaten the treasured values which are so important to all of us. These people are not of our faith, but they are our friends, neighbors, and co-workers in a variety of causes. We are pleased to lend our strength to their efforts.
But in all of this there is no doctrinal compromise. There need not be and must not be on our part. But there is a degree of fellowship as we labor together." (See We Bear Witness of Him for President Hinckley's full comments)
One of the favorite techniques critics use to sponsor the misrepresentation that Latter-day Saints are hostile to nonmembers is to distort LDS views on salvation. This distortion is normally accomplished by either twisting an actual LDS belief into something we don't believe or accurately quoting a real LDS belief, but leaving out the other LDS doctrines which give context to that belief.
Now let's answer your specific questions:
Do Latter-day Saints believe that they are the only Christians? Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin noted:
"A dictionary defines a Christian as 'one who professes belief in Jesus as Christ or following the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus,' and 'one who lives according to the teachings of Jesus.' Thus two characteristics identify Christians: First, they profess belief in the Savior, and second, they act in harmony with the Savior's teachings. Faithful members of the Church called Saints or Latter-day Saints, qualify clearly in both characteristics. In our belief and our action, we demonstrate that 'Jesus Christ Himself (is) the chief corner stone' of our faith." (See Christians in Belief and Action for Elder Wirthlin's full comments)
Unlike some competing denominations, Latter-day Saints don't try and play word games with this definition. For us to recognize a nonmember of our Church as a Christian, we don't demand that they hold all the same views of Jesus as we do. For example, some other Christian denominations teach that Jesus discarded his resurrected body at some point and now only exists as a spirit. Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus presently has a resurrected physical body, the same physical body he had during his mortal sojourn. (See Resurrection of Jesus Christ) Our difference of belief on this fundamental doctrine does not cause us to say that those who hold different --and we believe false-- views are not Christians. Despite their false views on this issue, we still consider them Christians. If you say you believe in Jesus Christ and say you try to follow his teachings, and want to be called a Christian, then Latter-day Saints are happy to acknowledge you as such. (For discussions of related issues, see "Mormonism" and Christendom)
by Robert L. Millet
Latter-day Saints believe that truth is to be found throughout the earth--among men and women in all walks of life, among sages and philosophers, and among people of differing religious persuasions. But they do claim that through the call of Joseph Smith and his successors, and through the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to earth. They value the truths had among the children of God everywhere but believe that theirs is the "only true church" in the sense that the same divine authority and the same doctrines of salvation had from the beginning are now to be found in their fullness in the LDS faith. It is odd that Protestant Christianity should be so offended with Joseph Smith's statement that 19th-century Christianity was off course; is that not exactly what those protesters like Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli said in regard to the Roman Catholic Church?
The Mormon Faith: A New Look at Christianity
Copyright by Deseret Book
by Joseph Fielding McConkie
The essence of Christianity centers on the idea that salvation is in Christ. That being the case, everyone who truly embraces the Christian faith must at the same time embrace the idea that it is only in and through Christ that salvation comes. Christ himself said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). Thus the doctrine of all the holy prophets has been that there is "none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12; see also D&C 18:23; 2 Nephi 25:20; 31:21). Within the ranks of those professing to be Christians there may be differences on the requirements of salvation, but all must agree on the acceptance of Christ as the source of salvation. At issue here is not whether a line must be drawn between the believer and the nonbeliever but simply where that line should be drawn. Latter-day Saints have marked a narrow path; the Protestant world endorses a broad one. For us there is but "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5) and thus one true Church. For Protestants the point of unity is the saving grace of Christ, beyond which is an immense doctrinal and denominational diversity. They hold it to be unchristian for us to suppose that they are not on the path of salvation while rejecting as outrageous any notion that we could possibly be on that path.
Answers To Tough Gospel Questions
Copyright by Deseret Books
by Van Hale and Bill Forrest
From the beginning a basic LDS claim declares that the church originally established by Jesus Christ through his apostles and prophets eventually apostatized, and was restored by Jesus through Joseph Smith in 1830, and the years that followed. (See Restoration of the Gospel home page)
It has become popular among opponents of the LDS faith to distort and misrepresent this LDS belief by claiming that Mormons despise all of the beliefs and advocates of all non-LDS Christian churches. A typical example of this is Walter Martin:
"With one dogmatic assertion Joseph pronounced everybody wrong, all Christian theology an abomination, and all professing Christians corrupt-all in the name of God'" (Maze of Mormonism (Santa Ana: Vision House, 1978), p. 31:)
A tract widely circulated by the anti-Mormon group, Saints Alive in Jesus, begins:
"Mormon missionaries, young fellows, neatly dressed, polite, ringing doorbells-two by two! Telling you that: Your church is all wrong; Your creed is an abomination; Your pastors are corrupt." (Here They Come . . 30,000 of Them)
The following article was first published in the Deseret News and is reproduced here from Millennial Star 63 (August 22, 1901), p. 549-551. This article represents LDS attitudes toward other Christian churches much more accurately than do the statements of Mormonism's opponents generally.
"MORMONISM" AND CHRISTENDOM
Attitude of the Former Towards the Latter Clearly Defined--Its True Position
A gentleman who has taken much interest in the articles in the Deseret News in reply to the attacks by the Presbyterian convention upon the "Mormon" Church, writes to us expressing his opinion that the News has "the best of the argument," but wants to know whether the Latter-day Saints "reject Christianity in all its branches, with all its doctrines, despising the whole system and the gospel it proclaims."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not take the position set forth in this query. It accepts Christianity, that is the Christianity of Jesus Christ, in all its branches and with all its doctrines. But it regards modern Christendom, with its multifarious sects and denominations and preachers, and many of its contradictory notions, as entirely different from that Christianity which Jesus of Nazareth and His Apostles promulgated. There is, however, some measure of truth in every religion extant; that we certainly do not reject. There are good people in all the religious organizations both in Christendom and in heathendom; they, we certainly do not condemn.
The systems of religion which men have invented are human, and therefore are not to be regarded as authorized of God. Whatever good there may be in any of them is divine. That which is erroneous is from mortal man or from the Evil One. None of them could continue in existence but for the measure of truth therein contained. But they all embody errors that stamp them as man-made and therefore unreliable. The Church of Christ must come from Christ, and its doctrines must be such as He reveals, not merely "the commandments of men." The good which some men and women associated with those systems are able to accomplish, we recognize and believe it is acceptable to God. But when men administer ordinances and ceremonies in the name of Deity which they have not been authorized by the Lord to perform, they assume a position which is displeasing to the Almighty, and their official acts in His name are utterly empty and void.
We do not despise or repudiate any principle of truth that is to be found in any system of religion, no matter by what name it may be called. Anything that is true in theology, philosophy, literature, science or art; in any discovery, invention or project, we accept and it blends into the truths of religion which the Lord has revealed in these latter-days, just as separate drops of water unite in one mass as soon as they coalesce. For "Truth is truth where'er 'tis found, on Christian or on heathen ground." There are some great truths in oriental non-Christian religions as well as in the sects that call themselves "Christian." None of these comes into repulsion with the system now revealed from heaven, and which is commonly dubbed "Mormonism."
This idea is clearly set forth in simple language in the Book of Mormon as follows:
Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God, and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin and to do that which is evil continually. But behold, that which is of God, inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, everything which inviteth and enticeth to do good and to love God and to serve Him is inspired of God.
We do not interfere, or wish to interfere, with the promulgation of anything that is true and beneficial to mankind, no matter from whence it proceeds. We do not desire to belittle the efforts of good men and women to elevate and improve humanity. On the contrary we wish them Godspeed. If they have anything better or more advanced than that which we have received, we stand ready to accept it. But we know this: God has opened up a new dispensation, "the dispensation of the fullness of times, in which He will gather in one all things that are in Christ." He has set up His Church again on earth, and committed authority to chosen men to administer in His name and teach the truths which He reveals. As There can be but one true Church of Christ no matter how many branches it may have in different nations, we do not regard any of the conflicting sects as divine or authoritative.
Our mission is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every creature, both in Christendom and in heathendom, and call upon all people, everywhere, to repent of their sins believing in Christ, and to be baptized by one having authority, for the remission of sins which comes through the atonement; with the promise that they who obey shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, which teacheth all things, guides into all truth, shows things to come and reveals the Father and the Son. It is the everlasting Gospel proclaimed by Christ Himself when on earth, and by the Apostles whom he sent into the world for that purpose~ and is the only way of salvation. The Church which he has set up today is organized after the pattern of the early Christian Church, and its ministers hold the same authority, power, keys and inspiration that were given to holy men of old.
This is our position as to the Church of the true and living God, and its attitude toward other religious creeds and societies. While we take this stand, and claim the right to worship God according to His revealed will, and the dictates of our own consciences, we accord the same right to all people upon the face of the earth let them worship what, or whom, or when they may. (See Articles of Faith)
JOSEPH SMITH'S VIEW OF THE CREEDS
Those who claim that Mormons deny the existence of any truth or goodness in any other Christian church usually cite this verse from Joseph Smith's account of his first vision (Joseph Smith 2:19) as their source:
. . . The Personage [Jesus Christ] who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that "they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof."
However, the following statement of Joseph Smith, which explains and tempers this, is never quoted:
I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to, though all of them have some truth; I want to come up into the presence of God, and learn all things; but the creeds set up stakes, and say, "Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further;" which I cannot subscribe to. (History of the Church 6:57).
To understand Joseph Smith's position the following statement must also be considered:
Have the Presbyterians any truth? Yes. Have the Baptists, Methodists, etc., any truth? Yes. They all have a little truth mixed with error. We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true "Mormons." (History of the Church 5:517).
Here Joseph Smith acknowledged truth in other churches, even truths not then found in Mormonism, and declares that true Mormons must gather these and treasure them up. On another occasion he said:
The inquiry is frequently made of me, "Wherein do you differ from others in your religious views?" In reality and essence we do not differ so far in our religious views, but that we could all drink into one principle of love. One of the grand fundamental principles of 'Mormonism" is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may. (History of the Church 5:499)-
The only thing that Joseph Smith condemned in other churches was that which was less than divine, that which was man-made. In a letter he wrote while in Liberty Jail he acknowledged the sincerity of those of other churches:
For there are yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it. (D&C 123:12).
It seems clear that the only ones whom Joseph Smith condemned were those professors of religion who sought by craftiness to deceive.
Editor's Note: Joseph Smith also made the following statement:
"The Saints can testify whether I am willing to lay down my life for my brethren. If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a Mormon, I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholic or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves." (Documentary History of the Church Vol.5, p. 498.)
STATEMENTS OF BRIGHAM YOUNG
Brigham Young also expressed views similar to those of Joseph Smith:
"Mormonism" so-called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to "Mormonism." The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this church. As for their morality many of them are morally just as good as we are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this church and kingdom. (Journal of Discourses 11:375).
It was the occupation of Jesus Christ and his Apostles to propagate the Gospel of salvation and the principles of eternal life to the world, and it is our duty and calling, as ministers of the same salvation and Gospel, to gather every item of truth and reject every error. Whether a truth be found with professed infidels, or with the Universalists, or the Church of Rome, or the Methodists, the Church of England, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Quakers, the Shakers, or any other of the various and numerous different sects and parties, all of whom have more or less truth, it is the business of the Elders of this Church (Jesus, their elder brother being at their head,) to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation . . . (JD 7:283).
(See Do Only Mormons Go to Heaven?; Daily Living home page; Interfaith Relationships home page; Response to Criticism home page; Accusatory Questions home page)
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