Are Mormons Christian? What truly defines a Christian?

by Rusty Lindquist on January 25, 2011 · 25 comments

This post is a continuation of the series “Are Mormons Christian“.

In the comments on the post “Are Mormons Christian? Do doctrinal difference define us“, the Pondering Pastor and I began a most crucial discussion that strikes at the very heart of this matter.

The post was about the importance of having a commonality of definitions of terms for accurate communication.  How differences in belief do not disqualify someone from the definition of Christianity, since in truth, we all differ to some varying degree. 

If our doctrine differs by degrees, is it therefore possible to be 50% Christian, or 80%, depending on how greatly your doctrine departs from what is orthodox?  And is orthodoxy truly the best measure?  Wasn’t Christ himself unorthodox in his day?  How about Luther?

So to say to one “you’re not a Christian”, simply because their beliefs diverge from your own, is a definition that does us no good.

But then what is a good definition?  If the exact alignment of the details of our doctrine cannot qualify us as Christian, what can?  What is fair?  What is the righteous way to judge?

Fortunately, that answer has already been given.  Surely the Lord knew that so many varying beliefs would sprout up, and as such, gave us the mechanism with which we may judge.

“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matthew 7:20)

That is how you know a Christian.  Not by what they say they believe, but by what they demonstrate of their beliefs through their actions.

For as Matthew continues “…not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”  (Matthew 7:21)

In that chapter the Lord clearly teaches that men do not gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles.  If you’re finding grapes, you’re not in a thorn bush, but a vineyard.   “…neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit”, but a “good tree bringeth forth good fruit”.  Hence, by their fruits ye shall know them.

Much can be discussed about doctrine.  What you believe, how you interpret scripture, what manner of baptism you subscribe to, etc.  But those don’t define a Christian.  Being Christ-like is what makes a Christian. 

For actions are the evidence of faith.   Remember, “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:20)

And as we read in John “though ye believe not me, believe the works:  that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him. (John 10:38)”

That is the one true, fair, and righteous way to define a Christian.  By their works, not their talk.  “I will shew thee my faith by my works.” (James 2:18).

Rusty

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Todd Wood December 12, 2008 at 11:52 PM

That is how you know a Christian. Not by what they say they believe, but by what they demonstrate of their beliefs through their actions.

Rusty, I will never accept any professing “Christian” who feels secure in his doctrinal beliefs but lives with joy in a wicked lifestyle. The biblical verses in this post thunder the absurdity.

But I have no idea how you can read all of Scripture and divorce the belief from the actions. When the Jews talk of the conversion of the heart, it involves a change of both the mind and the will.

In this post, you do no justice to the holistic statements of the prophets, apostles, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Reply

2 Rusty Lindquist December 13, 2008 at 3:20 AM

Todd,

LOL, I think perhaps that you were so preoccupied with wanting to disagree with me that you totally misread this post, for it agrees with everything you say in your comment.

You say that you won’t accept someone who professes that they are Christian, but who lives wickedly, which is exactly my point. The Lord says “by their fruits ye shall know them”, not by their words, or what they profess to believe. Your faith will be shown by your actions. So we know a Christian not by someone who says “I am Christian”, but because looking at their life, we see the evidence of their conversion, we see them striving to live righteously, to keep the commandments, to exemplify the Savior.

Hence, the qualification of “Christian” is not born from a dictionary, or from the proximity of our beliefs, but by the measure of our works.

In short, unless I’m missing something, we may actually be agreeing, which is awesome!

Reply

3 Todd Wood December 13, 2008 at 2:57 PM

(smiling)

Rusty, I agree with you in the sense of this biblical fact. The only way that I will demonstrate to you that I am a Christian is through my works.

But any faith is defined by the content of its object, not just their lifestyle. The Christian faith has its distinctly, uniquely Object. Can we all have faith in various versions of the Object? I think you would say yes. But I disagree.

Get this. I have an LDS friend who says he can live a decent, moral life following the human example of Jesus Christ. He would say he is a Christian, but he does not believe that Jesus is divine. He doesn’t believe Jesus did any miracles. But he has been very kind to me.

Now, you might find a dictionary that would classify this person as a Christian. But do the scriptures define this person as a true Christian?

Reply

4 Mark R. December 13, 2008 at 4:35 PM

Rusty, I find it ever so stumbling that you refer back to scripture to support your view after dismantling the importance of sound biblical interpretation.

Reply

5 Jared December 13, 2008 at 10:57 PM

Todd: “I have an LDS friend who says he can live a decent, moral life following the human example of Jesus Christ. He would say he is a Christian, but he does not believe that Jesus is divine. He doesn’t believe Jesus did any miracles.”

Todd, your “LDS friend” sounds like no (even reasonably active) LDS person I have ever met (and being one, I’ve met many). The LDS Church quite clearly teaches the divinity of the Savior – you actually find it more in abundance in The Book of Mormon than you do in the New Testament. As a side note: Joseph Smith was once asked what was the Savior’s first miracle. His reply was “The creation of the earth.”

In the 1800s a movement arose within Christianity that de-emphasized the divinity of the Savior. He was a great leader and moral teacher but nothing more (maybe a prophet). This movement has a very strong following within broader Christianity today. Whole conferences are devoted to it. The LDS Church is very outspoken about these beliefs.

Almost 9 years ago, the Apostles of the LDS Church issued a statement/testimony about Jesus Christ. It ends with these words: “We bear testimony, as His duly ordained Apostles—that Jesus is the Living Christ, the immortal Son of God. He is the great King Immanuel, who stands today on the right hand of His Father. He is the light, the life, and the hope of the world. His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son. ”

This LDS friend of yours: A) does not attend church; B) attends church but completely misunderstands all LDS doctrine; C) is miscommunicating with you about his beliefs (not lying; there is just some misunderstanding somewhere); or D) does not exist. Those are the only options I can think of.

In any case, who are we to judge the “Christian-ness” of others when they call themselves Christian? What someone does certainly matters as Rusty pointed out. However, a Hindu or a Muslim or a Jew or an atheist could all live the same type of lives that a Christian could. They wouldn’t call themselves Christians, of course, but if we look at just a person’s works, then we do not have then complete picture. In other words, we cannot judge just by someone’s fruits (although, it certainly is the best place to start). We have to know someone’s mind and heart, which only God and that person really know. Therefore, faith and “Christian-ness” are also matters of the heart, which we cant judge. So who are we to say who is Christian or who isn’t (if they do not say it outright)?

I’m not contradicting Rusty at all. He made an excellent and valid point. If people really are Christian, they will lead Christian lives; they will do unto others as the Savior would. My point, however, is one he’s made before. It is that so many people who are not members of the LDS church tell Mormons that they are not Christian; I’ve had plenty of people tell me this to my face. When people do this, they completely disregard what we do – the kind of lives we try to live – and assume that they know what’s in our hearts, which only we and God know.

I’ll use a car analogy (I’m sorry if my analogy isn’t perfect; it should get the point across though). Saying Mormons aren’t Christian is like looking at the Mormon minivan (not an actual car, this is an analogy) and saying, “That minivan doesn’t look like my Christian Corvette. At its heart, it even has a different engine than my Corvette. Therefore, the Mormon minivan is not a car.” This analogy is rather absurd, as is not calling Mormons Christians.

Reply

6 Jared December 14, 2008 at 7:36 PM

Here is a link (with a video of the testimony of an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ) that quite definitively answers the question, “Are Mormons Christian?”: http://mormon.org/mormonorg/eng/basic-beliefs/jesus-christ-our-savior/jesus-christ-our-savior#d

Reply

7 Todd Wood December 15, 2008 at 3:51 PM

He doesn’t attend the LDS Church. But there are many that call themselves LDS that don’t attend the Church on any regular basis.

But here is another question. Should my friend be excommunicated from the LDS Church because of what he inwardly believes against official LDS teaching? I get the implication from Rusty that it doesn’t matter what a person believes as long as he shows proper actions in his life.

People have got to believe some things (unless they are hypocrites) if they are going to step foot in an LDS temple and be married.

What truly defines what a Christian must believe for full celestial exaltation? Anything at all?

And by the way, Jared, do you think Muslims in America can label themselves as Christians? It will be the upcoming debate.

Reply

8 Bob Loblaw December 15, 2008 at 5:36 PM

Todd,

LOL. You are really mixing the issues with your last post. First of all, Rusty’s post did not say that beliefs are not important for salvation. This post has nothing to do with the method of salvation. Rusty is simply stating that there are various ways to define what a “Christian” is. The point is that works are a good measuring stick for labeling individuals “Christian” whereas beliefs are one not as quantifiable. But it is obvious one must consider their beliefs into the mix.

If you are speaking about salvation, exaltation etc. faith in Christ and His saving grace is essential to salvation. A belief strongly shared among many churches, including the LDS Church.

As for your comment regarding the number of active vs. inactive LDS members, I can assure you that there are many of all faiths that are not considered very active, or who do not really understand the teachings/doctrines of the church.

Lastly, I know you addressed the question regarding Muslims to Jared, but I must ask why do you think Muslims would want to identify themselves as Christian? That would not be very true or descriptive of their beliefs or even their works. Not to say they are bad people, rather they don’t pattern their lives after Christ, whom they worship as God as Christians do.

Reply

9 Mark R. December 15, 2008 at 6:05 PM

Are RLDS Mormons? Or FLDS?

Reply

10 clickpreston December 15, 2008 at 6:18 PM

I love your site. What a great way to build the kingdom! I recently started a site called AboutTheMormons.com in which members of the church can share testimonies etc and those who are curious can ask questions to the members.

I was wondering if there was any way to get exposure here on your site so that people can be aware of the new site. I would be happy to include links to your site on AboutTheMormons.com. Let me know if you can help and Thank You!

Reply

11 ponderingpastor December 15, 2008 at 7:58 PM

Here is my problem with the definition above.

Each of the following is sequentially true.

1. Judaism is radically monotheistic with a promised messiah.

2. Christ is fulfillment of the promised messiah of Judaism.

3. If Christ is God, then either Christianity has abandoned radical monotheism of Judaism or Christ is the same God that was worshiped by the Jews.

4. This (and scripture) led to the understanding of God as the Holy Trinity, one God. (Orthodox Christianity)

5. Therefore, Christianity worships Christ without abandoning radical monotheism.

6. Mormonism does not accept the understanding of the Holy Trinity … resulting in polytheism or at the very least an abandonment of the radical monotheism of Judaism. Without this, Mormons worship an idea, not the one true God.

7. It is critical to have the object/person/god of worship to be clearly identified. Groups who worship a different object/person/god cannot claim to be unified or called by the same name, ie. Christian.

This may not be clear, I’ve been distracted as I write.

Pondering Pastor

Reply

12 Jared December 15, 2008 at 8:59 PM

Ponder Pastor,

You bring up the crux of the argument, if I understand you correctly. From your view Mormons are not Christian because we believe that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate entities. Is this correct? Of course, there could be other things but this seems like the key point.

Overall, interesting thoughts. “It is critical to have the object/person/god of worship to be clearly identified.”

I completely agree. Joseph Smith once said something to that effect. “It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God.” Also, “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.”

The problem is that the concept of the Holy Trinity is neither clearly defined nor identified. C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity provided the clearest explanation I’ve ever read about the Trinity but even then it took him 2-3 chapters and I was still left unsatisfied with the explanation.

The other problem is the the wording and concept of the Trinity is not Biblical. The first that it was ever talked about was by some of the early Christian fathers (even then, there were plenty of other Christian fathers – Gregory Nazianzen, for example – who taught that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were 3 distinct beings).

The concept of the Trinity derived from early (ca. 200-300 AD) church thinkers trying to reconcile Christianity with the prevailing Greek philosophy of the day, specifically to writings of Socrates and Plato.

However, these points have been debated for centuries. That is why Joseph Smith’s vision was so important – he actually saw God the Father and Jesus Christ side by side. Stephen the Martyr similarly saw God and Jesus Christ side by side (see Acts 7:55 – “But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God”).

Sorry, I have to go study for a final so I can’t continue my post (yeah, I know, some excuse). 🙂

Reply

13 Bob Loblaw December 15, 2008 at 9:01 PM

PP,

Interesting line of logic. Personally, I have always been fascinated with the faith so many have in the Nicene Creed and the definition of God from scholars. It seems to me that the definition of God contained in the Nicene Creed is much more of an “idea” than the description of a personage seen by a prophet.

Let’s assume, for example, that it is a fact that Joseph Smith actually saw God. (I understand you will probably contest this statement, but please hear me out). Would his description of God, and the actual character of God, as revealed by God to a living prophet mean more than a collection of scholars trying their best to understand something that is not clearly defined in the Bible?

In my opinion the object/person/god of worship of the LDS Church is clearly identified and defined in much more clarity than what the Nicene Creed attempts to provide.

As this issue seems to be at the heart of the definition of what constitutes a “Christian” I want to add some interesting content from a Church Leader:

Our first and foremost article of faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” We believe these three divine persons constituting a single Godhead are united in purpose, in manner, in testimony, in mission. We believe Them to be filled with the same godly sense of mercy and love, justice and grace, patience, forgiveness, and redemption. I think it is accurate to say we believe They are one in every significant and eternal aspect imaginable except believing Them to be three persons combined in one substance, a Trinitarian notion never set forth in the scriptures because it is not true.

Indeed no less a source than the stalwart Harper’s Bible Dictionary records that “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the [New Testament].”

So any criticism that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not hold the contemporary Christian view of God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost is not a comment about our commitment to Christ but rather a recognition (accurate, I might add) that our view of the Godhead breaks with post–New Testament Christian history and returns to the doctrine taught by Jesus Himself. Now, a word about that post–New Testament history might be helpful.
In the year A.D. 325 the Roman emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea to address—among other things—the growing issue of God’s alleged “trinity in unity.” What emerged from the heated contentions of churchmen, philosophers, and ecclesiastical dignitaries came to be known (after another 125 years and three more major councils) as the Nicene Creed, with later reformulations such as the Athanasian Creed. These various evolutions and iterations of creeds—and others to come over the centuries—declared the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be abstract, absolute, transcendent, immanent, consubstantial, coeternal, and unknowable, without body, parts, or passions and dwelling outside space and time. In such creeds all three members are separate persons, but they are a single being, the oft-noted “mystery of the trinity.” They are three distinct persons, yet not three Gods but one. All three persons are incomprehensible, yet it is one God who is incomprehensible.

We agree with our critics on at least that point—that such a formulation for divinity is truly incomprehensible. With such a confusing definition of God being imposed upon the church, little wonder that a fourth-century monk cried out, “Woe is me! They have taken my God away from me, . . . and I know not whom to adore or to address.” How are we to trust, love, worship, to say nothing of strive to be like, One who is incomprehensible and unknowable? What of Jesus’s prayer to His Father in Heaven that “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent”?

It is not our purpose to demean any person’s belief nor the doctrine of any religion. We extend to all the same respect for their doctrine that we are asking for ours. (That, too, is an article of our faith.) But if one says we are not Christians because we do not hold a fourth- or fifth-century view of the Godhead, then what of those first Christian Saints, many of whom were eyewitnesses of the living Christ, who did not hold such a view either?

We declare it is self-evident from the scriptures that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are separate persons, three divine beings, noting such unequivocal illustrations as the Savior’s great Intercessory Prayer just mentioned, His baptism at the hands of John, the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, and the martyrdom of Stephen—to name just four.

There is much more content regarding the LDS definition of God. It is not an IDEA, just different from what you believe Pastor.

God Bless.

Reply

14 Margaret December 15, 2008 at 10:18 PM

Mark R
We belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The “Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” broke off from us after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith. They now call themselves the “Community of Christ”. They are separate from us.

The FLDS were formed sometime later. They are also separate from us. Our beliefs and doctrines are not the same. As has been said before, we do not practice polygamy.

Reply

15 Martin H December 15, 2008 at 11:08 PM

Margaret

Are they Mormon’s, Christians, or what?

Reply

16 Rusty Lindquist December 16, 2008 at 1:30 AM

Bob, Jared,

Thank you for taking so much time. If you don’t mind, I’m going to essentially just quote you guys in the next post, you’ve done a thorough job covering it all. That way, we can have the discussion of the nature of God in a properly segmented area.

Mark R., Martin H.,

You ask “Are RLDS Mormons? Or FLDS?” and “are they Mormons, Christians, or what?”

It’s a trap, based on a false premise. If I say “no, they’re not Mormons, they broke off from ‘mainstream’ Mormonism’, then you’ll compare it to our current topic and claim that Mormons aren’t Christian for the same reason.

But you’re comparing names of organizations with “Christianity”, which is not the name of an organization, but a label describing those who believe in Christ and follow his teachings. There are many organizations who are Christian (Protestants aren’t Catholics, who aren’t Lutheran, but they’re all Christian religions).

But more importantly, you miss the whole point, which is what is most unfortunate. The point is that the Lord, in His wisdom, and understanding the nature of how things were soon to be (so many religious organizations), gave us the way to judge. “By their fruits ye shall know them”.

That’s good enough for me, and considering the source, I encourage you to come to peace with the idea yourself. For although we may point out the numerous doctrinal differences among us, the point stands that we all differ, by varying degrees. So to say that exact conformity of doctrine is a requirement for Christianity, is to say that none of us are Christian. More importantly, this kind of definition is the measure of man, not the measure of the Lord.

As for me, His way is sufficient. May you choose your measure appropriately.

Reply

17 Margaret December 16, 2008 at 12:08 PM

Rusty, thanks for answering Mark R & Martin H’s questions so well. I don’t think it’s my place to say what anyone is.

Reply

18 Jared December 16, 2008 at 2:36 PM

Rusty,

Go ahead and quote/paraphrase/use whatever I wrote. I don’t need even to be cited, especially since a substantial portion of what I wrote is my own paraphrasing of things I’ve learned over time from people who are either much more intelligent than I am or who took the time to read the source material (or at least translations of it).

The nature of God certainly is an interesting and important topic. It’s hard to come to know God, which the Savior taught, if we do not know about Him or comprehend His character.

Reply

19 Todd Wood December 16, 2008 at 4:22 PM

Rusty, the Lord gave us other ways to judge disciples, too.

But though Bob and you think I am completely missing the point, I disagree with you narrowing to “the way to judge”.

Like it is the only way God defines Christians.

Reply

20 Todd Wood December 16, 2008 at 4:27 PM

It is both the orthodoxy (what he taught and what we must believe) and orthopraxy (how he lived and how we will live) of Christ that defines Christians.

It is that simple.

Have a good week.

Reply

21 Rusty Lindquist December 16, 2008 at 6:08 PM

I don’t think you’re missing the point, for that last comment was quite accurate. Believing in Christ is not enough, doing good deeds is not enough. I must believe in Christ, and I must act accordingly. Then, shall I be truly found, a Christian.

Reply

22 Martha December 27, 2008 at 7:24 PM

Could you explain your feelings regarding Joseph Smith’s polyandrous relationships with Presendia Huntington and Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs. Please frame them in context with “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

Also we all know that King David and many other patriarchs practiced polygamy but when was it ever ordained by God? And wouldn’t you say there’s a difference in practicing sin and teaching others to do likewise?

Reply

23 Hollis July 4, 2014 at 10:39 PM

It’s hard to find your page in google. I found
it on 12 spot, you should build quality backlinks , it will help you to rank to google top 10.
I know how to help you, just search in google – k2 seo tricks

Reply

24 Vance July 6, 2014 at 7:43 PM

I see a lot of interesting posts on your website.
You have to spend a lot of time writing, i know how to save you a lot of work, there
is a tool that creates unique, SEO friendly articles in couple of seconds, just search in google – laranita’s
free content source

Reply

25 Oliva August 27, 2014 at 5:10 AM

I read a lot of interesting posts here. Probably you spend
a lot of time writing, i know how to save you a lot of work, there
is an online tool that creates readable, SEO
friendly articles in seconds, just search in google –
laranitas free content source

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: