Mormonism and traditional Christianity: A Brief Look at Some Differences

over the last 2.5 years I have been challenged to better understand my own worldview.  My searching and growth is mostly do to the fact that I have been placed in an environment at my job with people of differing and diverse worldviews.  I admire many of these people and consider them my close friends. I admire them because they are unashamed of what they believe in and willing to stand up for it.  Although it is often difficult to immediately provide answers to the questions that arise from our conversations, the questions ultimately end up cultivating personal growth through introspection.  It is healthy to ask questions and follow the answers wherever they may lead.  After all, if my worldview assumptions are correct then I have nothing to fear in digging deep into the hard questions of life.  On the other hand, if I find myself avoiding a question because I am afraid of where the answer might lead, this is probably a case where I should be honest with myself instead of hiding.

Below is an email I sent to someone whom I greatly respect.  He is Mormon and he has on several occasions spoken of the great similarities and commonalities between evangelical Christians and Mormons. Indeed, when he speaks of the Mormon Church, he will refer to it as Christian similar to a Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian etc…  It can be confusing when the term “Christian” is thrown around a lot and I wanted to put together a short response to him on this subject.  I think I understand why Mormons today, contrary to historically, want to include themselves under the umbrella of Christendom.  I believe the reason is that it is a good way to proselytize.  Any good evangelist (or salesman for that matter) knows that finding common ground is an essential first step to building a relationship and trust.  Once trust is built through the common ground, then there is the potential to convince someone of something they were previously unaware of.

To the traditional Christian who has not looked into Mormonism in any substantial depth, it is easy to accept the fact that Mormonism is Christianity. Why would you question it? If they say they are Christian, then they are. Right?  Yes we should trust those claiming Christ at their word. However, if we are truly friends with them, we should also listen to them and what they actually say they believe. And if what they say about Christianity turns out to not be traditional Christianity, it would be good to share that with them.  With this said the main goal was to look at Mormonism and traditional Christianity in terms of their differences and similarities from a traditional Christian standpoint in order to understand the two better.  This should clear up some of the confusion for those who might have heard someone say that Mormonism is Christianity. I am still working on an essay/letter on a similar topic that was spawned from another exchange with my Mormon friend. Hopefully that essay will be completed soon.  Also, I have changed my friend’s name for privacy.

MESSAGE:

This is NOT from my paper but your conversation that I overheard this morning prompted me to put something together regarding the differences between LDS and traditional Christian beliefs.  I hope it is helpful. Jones, your friendship and fervency of your faith has encouraged me to search and know my own beliefs better. For that, I am ever grateful.  More to come in my paper… Please feel free to correct me on anything below that is not true according to your understanding. Or anything that misrepresents your point-of-view.

Four sections below:

  1. A quick reflection on denominations and early church history
  2. A free pdf download of a short book I recommend (quick read)
  3. A chart on the differences between Mormonism and traditional Christianity
  4. An article on the question of LDS orthodoxy to Christian doctrine

-1. History of denominations:-

http://www.4truth.net/fourtruthpbdenominations.aspx?pageid=8589952160

Link above shows some historical reasons for “denominationalism”, which is a trend that began in colonial America.  Mormonism can be traced back to one of the so-called “great awakenings” of religious revival in the U.S. in the 1830s and 40s. “Tent revivals” along the frontier and small towns created religiously excited communities but left some without discipleship or training in traditional understandings/doctrines. Many new sects, that had not migrated from Europe originally, cropped up during this time.  Some of the sects, including Mormonism had unorthodox views compared to traditional Christianity.

The question that bothered Joseph smith was the question of “why so many creeds and sects?”  This is something that I have asked myself.  Joseph Smith claimed that god told him “they were all wrong . . . that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt” (PGP: Joseph Smith-History 1:19-20).  However, the LDS claim of total apostasy is greatly exaggerated. If we want to know who Jesus was, what he preached, and how the church should be run, all we need to do is look at the primary historical documents from the first century (the 4 gospels and acts etc…).  We also have a well-documented historical viewpoint from the writings of the early church fathers (the actual disciples of the apostles and gospel writers). From these writings we can compare how, where, and when, AND if the church changed throughout the centuries. Even though there were church councils throughout the centuries (from which creeds emerged), we can see if they strayed from historically reliable teachings of the apostles.

Most church councils in the early years (300-500 ad) were affirmations of the truth and were in reaction to rising sects of unorthodox doctrine (eg those NOT taught by Paul, Peter, John, and the churches they planted) . The church did not impose their view through a simple vote, they rather affirmed what had been handed to them through a traceable chain of custody. Indeed, the early church up until right before the first council (325 ad) had been persecuted and martyred for their beliefs by the Roman Empire. So to say that the big and bad corrupt church was just another means to obtain political power is to ignore or deny the sincerity and historic path of traditional Christian understandings and doctrines.  Although we in America love a good story about how an underdog has been silenced by a corrupt and power hungry tyrant (in this case the church), fortunately this is NOT what we see when we look at early church history (see Ben Witherington’s book The Gospel Code for more on this).  Da Vinci Code-like stories are entertaining because they are novel to us and more exciting than actual history.  Novel claims about the early church and Jesus are appealing a large and eager audience!

Corruption has occurred in Christian history, no-doubt! This is one reason the Protestant Reformation was needed.  The reformation encouraged people to read and search the scriptures for themselves instead of having a few elites interpret it for them. See Acts 17:11 “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true”.  Asking questions and examining the veracity of any Church’s truth claims is an imperative that is taught in the Bible.

In conclusion, the differences in Christian denominations are not so wide that each denomination considers the others apostate or false.  All the evangelical churches have common core beliefs regarding Jesus, salvation, the bible etc…  Some of these are seen in the chart below.

-2. Book PDF:-

Book by Mike Licona below. Pertinent to differences between LDS and traditional Biblical Christianity. The LDS claims to be the Restored and true Church so there should not be any question that there are differences. I get more into this in my paper. Relevant chapters in the book that I found helpful are: CHAPTER 2 The Bible is Reliable, CHAPTER 3 Archaeology and the Book of Mormon, Chapter 4 The Book of Abraham, and Chapter 5 Mormon Evidences. The book is a quick read and cites many primary Mormon sources including LDS apostles and LDS Prophets so that they can speak for themselves.

Here’s a link to a pdf that will download the book:https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CB8QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fstaging.4truth.net%2FWorkArea%2FDownloadAsset.aspx%3Fid%3D8590118481&ei=mX2zU46KHZSgyASJ-4GIAQ&usg=AFQjCNHf4gx8YMGIHt1XRCsi1KcowJL3OQ&sig2=UumNz37rppywjdz-Um0sIQ

On the author

-Michael R. ‘Mike’ Licona (born July 17, 1961)[1] is an American New Testament scholar, Christian apologist and historian. He is Associate Professor in Theology at Houston Baptist University and the director of Risen Jesus, Inc. Licona specializes in the Resurrection of Jesus, and in the literary analysis of the Gospels as Greco-Roman biographies. (wikipedia)

-3. Some DIFFERENCES:-

·         Comparison Chart –  Mormonism and Christianity

By Tal Davis

Introduction:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon church) professes to be a Christian church. However, a careful comparison of basic doctrinal positions of that church to those of historical, biblical Christianity reveal many radical differences. This pamphlet compares Mormon doctrines as stated in LDS authoritative primary sources to those of historic Christianity as derived solely from the Bible.

The Doctrine of God:

Historic Christianity Mormonism
The one God is a Spirit who is the personal, eternal, infinite Creator of all that exists. He is the only God and necessary for all other things to exist. He exists eternally as a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (see Deut. 6:4; Isa. 43:10; 44:6-8; Matt. 28:19; John 4:24; 17:3) God (Heavenly Father) is an exalted man with a physical body of flesh and bone. LDS founder Joseph Smith said, “If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible-I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345). The trinity is denied with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost seen as three separate entities. “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us” (Doctrine and Covenants [D&C] 130:22).

The Doctrine of Jesus Christ:

 Historic Christianity  Mormonism
Jesus Christ was the virgin born God incarnate who existed in all time with the Father and Holy Spirit in the eternal Trinity. As a man He possessed two natures -human and divine. He lived a sinless life and willingly died on the cross as a sacrifice for the sin of all humanity. (see John 1:1-18; 8:56-59; Phil. 2:6-11; Col. 1:13-22; Heb.1:3; 13:8) Jesus was the spiritual “first born” Son of God in the preexistence. “Every person who was ever born on earth was our spirit brother or sister in heaven. The first spirit born to our heavenly parents was Jesus Christ, so he is literally our elder brother” (Gospel Principles [GP], p. 11).”And now, verily I say unto you, I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn” (D&C 93:21). He is also the “only begotten” physical offspring of God by procreation on earth. “Jesus is the only person on earth to be born of a mortal mother and an immortal father. That is why he is called the Only Begotten Son” (GP, p. 64). His atonement (death and resurrection) provides immortality for all people regardless of their faith. “Christ thus overcame physical death. Because of his atonement, everyone born on this earth will be resurrected . . . This condition is called immortality. All people who ever lived will be resurrected, ‘both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous’ (The Book of Mormon [BOM], Alma 11:44)” (GP, p. 74). (See GP, pp. 11, 17-19, 61-77.)

The Doctrine of Scriptures and Authority:

 Historic Christianity  Mormonism
The Bible (Old and New Testaments) is the unique, revealed, and inspired Word of God. It is the sole authority for faith and practice for Christians. (see 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21) Recognizes the LDS Four Standard Works as authoritative. These include the Bible “as far as it is translated correctly” (Articles of Faith 1:8). It also includes The Book of Mormon (BOM) which Joseph Smith declared is “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 194).

The church also regards The Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) as Scripture. It “is a collection of modern revelations . . . regarding The Church of Jesus Christ as it has been restored in these last days” (GP, p. 54).

The Pearl of the Great Price (PGP) is the fourth book believed to be inspired.
“It clarifies doctrines and teachings that were lost from the Bible and gives added information concerning the creation of the earth” (GP, p. 54).

The church’s president is regarded as “a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet” (D&C 107:91-92).

The Doctrine of Humanity:

 Historic Christianity  Mormonism
Human beings are created in God’s image, meaning they have personal qualities similar to God’s. Every person is a unique, precious being of dignity and worth. (see Gen. 1:26-27) People are the preexisted spiritual offspring of the Heavenly Father and Mother. “All men and women are . . . literally the sons and daughters of Deity . . . Man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal (physical) body” (Joseph F. Smith, “The Origin of Man,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1909, pp. 78,80, as quoted in GP, p. 11).They are born basically good and are “gods in embryo.” A commonly quoted Mormon aphorism (attributed to fifth LDS president Lorenzo Snow) says “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.”

The Doctrine of Sin:

 Historic Christianity  Mormonism
Human beings have chosen to sin against God, rejecting His nature and pursing life opposed to His essential character and revealed law. (see Rom. 3:23; 7:14-25; 1 John 1:8-10) People sin by disobedience to God’s laws. Adam’s fall, a part of Heavenly Father’s plan, caused a loss of immortality, which was necessary for mankind to advance, (see GP, pp. 31-34). As Eve declared according to LDS scripture, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have . . . known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient”(PGP, Moses 5:11; see also BOM, 2 Nephi 2:22-25). Each person is responsible for his or her own sin.

The Doctrine of Salvation:

  Historic Christianity  Mormonism
Salvation is release from the guilt and power of sin through God’s gift of grace. It is provided through Christ’s atonement and received by personal faith in Christ as Savior and Lord. (see Rom. 3:20; 10:9- 10; Eph. 2:8-10) Jesus’ atonement provided immortality for all people. Exaltation (godhood) is available only to Mormons through obedience to LDS teachings: faith, baptism, endowments, celestial marriage, and tithing. “Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God-Wherefore, all things are theirs” (D&C, 76:58-59).

These are some of the blessings given to exalted people:

1. They will live eternally in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ (see D&C, 76).

2. They will become gods.

3. They will have their righteous family members with them and will be able to have spirit children also. These spirit children will have the same relationship to them as we do to our Heavenly Father. They will be an eternal family.

4. They will receive a fullness of joy.

5. They will have everything that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have – all power, glory, dominion, and knowledge (See GP, p. 302).

Baptism for the dead provides post-mortem salvation for non-Mormons, and is “by immersion performed by a living person for one who is dead. This ordinance is performed in temples” (GP, p. 375). (See also GP, chapters 18-23.)

The Doctrine of Life after Death:

 Historic Christianity  Mormonism
Eternal life in heaven with God for those who have trusted in Jesus Christ. Eternal separation from God’s presence in hell for the unsaved. (see Matt. 5:12-30; 25:41; Rev. 20-22) One of three levels of glory:

1. Exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom for faithful Mormons where people may become gods or angels; “Then shall they be gods” (D&C 132:20).

2. Terrestrial Kingdom for righteous non-Mormons; “These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men. These are they who receive of his glory, but not of his fullness” (D&C 76:75-76).

3. Telestial Kingdom for wicked and ungodly (not hell); “These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers . . . who suffer the wrath of God on earth”(D&C 76:103-104). (See also D&C 76:57-119; 131:1-4.)

The Doctrine of the Church:

 Historic Christianity  Mormonism
Christians congregate together in local bodies and along denominational lines sharing distinctive doctrinal and ecclesiastical concepts. There is no organization or denomination that can claim exclusive designation as the “one true church. The universal church consists of all the redeemed in Jesus Christ in all of the ages. (see Matt. 16:15-19; 1 Cor. 1:12-14; Eph. 2:19; 3:11-12) Asserts that the LDS is the one true church on the face of the earth. Joseph Smith claimed Jesus Christ told him to join none of the existing denominations because “they were all wrong . . . that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt” (PGP: Joseph Smith-History 1:19-20). Mormons claim only the LDS possesses the divine authority of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood as restored by God to Joseph Smith in 1829. (D&C 13; 27:8- 13; 107:1-20; PGP: Joseph Smith-History 1:68-73)

References:

 ____. Gospel Principles. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2009. (www.lds.org/library/display/o,4945,11-1-1,00-html)
 McConkie, Bruce. A New Witness for the Articles of Faith. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1986.
Smith, Joseph, Jr. The Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2006. (http://scriptures.lds.org/en/dc).
Smith, Joseph, Jr. The Doctrine and Covenants. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982.
Smith, Joseph, Jr. History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 7 vols. 2nd ed. rev. Edited by B.H. Roberts. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932-1951.
Smith, Joseph, Jr. The Pearl of Great Price. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2006. (http://scriptures.lds.org/en/pgp)
Smith, Joseph Fielding. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1977.

Above chart copied from http://www.4truth.net/fourtruthpbnew.aspx?pageid=8589952801

-4. Article:-

FAQ: Are Mormons Christians?

Q: Are Mormons Christians?

The question of whether or not Mormonism is “Christian” turns on our definition of that term. Most broadly, we may use the term Christian in a generic sense, according to which any group is “Christian” if it is properly classified within the category of world religions known as Christianity. In this generic sense, the LDS Church may be described as “Christian.” But this means simply that Mormonism should be classified as part of the world religion of Christianity rather than being classified as a branch of, say, Judaism or Hinduism. Likewise, we rightly classify a wide variety of religious bodies, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Assemblies of God, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Branch Davidians, and the Unification Church, as part of Christianity in this generic sense. No approval (or disapproval) of the religion’s teachings or practices is implied in such a generic, world-religions description of a religion as Christian.

Obviously, the question “Are Mormons Christians?” is not controversial because of a mere disagreement over classification. The real issue is whether the LDS Church is a valid, authentic, faithful expression of the Christian faith. On this question, we must simply accept the fact that evangelicals and LDS will disagree.

From an evangelical perspective, Mormonism is not faithfully or soundly Christian because it deviates from historic, biblical standards of orthodox Christianity. For example, Mormonism teaches that God the Father is an exalted Man, that Jesus, angels, and human beings were all the literal spirit offspring of our “heavenly Father and Mother,” and that the ultimate goal of the Christian life is to become exalted to Godhood ourselves. The LDS Church derives these doctrines from its expanded canon of “scripture” that includes alleged modern revelations given to Joseph Smith, who claimed to be the Prophet through whom God restored true Christianity to the earth. The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that God is not a man (Num. 23:19) but is transcendent, omnipresent Spirit (1 Kings 8:27; Is. 31:3; John 4:24), that there are no other Gods alongside him, and that there will be no Gods formed in the future (Is. 43:10; 44:6-8). Human beings did not preexist as spirits in heaven before their earthly lives; the only human being who preexisted in heaven (as spirit) before becoming a man was Jesus Christ (John 3:31; 16:28). The New Testament instructs us as believers in Christ to dissociate ourselves religiously from groups that teach such false doctrines that deviate in crucial ways from the apostolic message (Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Cor. 11:3-4, 13-15; Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Tim. 4:1-2; 2 Tim. 4:3-4; Titus 1:10-16; 2 Pet. 2:1; 3:16-17; 1 John 4:1-6; 2 John 7-11).

Our conclusion that Mormonism is not “Christian” in this narrower, theological sense does not imply any animosity or hostility toward Latter-day Saints. Devout Mormons tend to be good citizens, to espouse high, conservative moral values, and to make common cause with conservative Christians on such important social issues as abortion. Nor do evangelicals single out Mormonism on this issue, since we reach similar conclusions about a variety of “Christian” religious groups whose teachings differ radically from biblical, historic Christian orthodoxy (e.g., Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Unification Church, mentioned earlier). Our intent is to draw attention to the serious differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity in order that believers may be prepared to share the truth with their LDS friends and loved ones.

Article above copied from http://www.4truth.net

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