Brett’s monthly letter for August 2011
It was a simple request. “Would you be willing to take a survey on the differences between Christianity and Mormonism?” I asked, standing in the shadow of the Mormon temple in downtown Salt Lake City.
“I am a Christian. Mormons are Christians, too,” declared a puzzled-looking middle-aged woman, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). As we stood on the sidewalk talking, she expressed her confusion.
“We believe in Jesus. He’s our Savior. He died on the cross for our sins. He rose again. Doesn’t that make us Christian?” she argued.
She had a point. All the words sounded right. All the statements seemed solid, at least at first glance.
Clearly, many Christians seem to think so—that a move to Mormonism is just a change of denominations, not a change of religions. This may account for the high conversion rate. According to Mormonism expert Kurt Van Gorden, 75.3 % of all LDS converts “claim a previous Christian affiliation.”1 Southern Baptist leader Richard Land affirms the problem of losing their members to Mormonism: “There are now more Mormons that used to be Southern Baptist than any other denomination.”2
Of course, if Mormons are Christians, then conversion to Mormonism is no big deal. This explains why even Christians push back a bit on the idea of missions to Mormons.
In July, I took 35 staff and students from Harvest Christian Fellowship to Salt Lake City for their first theological missions trip. For trips like this one, I help train them beforehand, and during the trip we create opportunities for dialogue with Mormons. Not only do Mormons object, but Christians reprimand us for trying to “take away a Mormon’s faith.” We’ve had Christian parents forbid their kids from taking part in these trips because they thought it wrong to evangelize Mormons. Why? Because they too think Mormons are Christians. So are Mormons Christians, like you and me?
Not according to Mormonism’s founder and first prophet, Joseph Smith, who allegedly prayed and inquired of God to reveal which church was the true church. Smith described his first vision of the Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and their answer to his request:
My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join...“I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage 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.’”3
According to Smith’s account, God declared all Christian sects not merely wrong, but corrupt. The church had become an “abomination.” Mormon doctrine states that shortly after the original apostles died off, the Christian church had a complete falling away from the gospel known as the Great Apostasy. Therefore, the Book of Mormon is severe in its judgment, condemning Christianity as “that great and abominable church” and “the whore of all the earth” (I Nephi 22:13), whose founder is Satan (I Nephi 13:5–6). A brutal indictment indeed.
No, Mormonism does not merely take itself to be another denomination of Christianity. Mormons are the true Christians. Through Joseph Smith, God restored the gospel to the earth (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith—History, 1:1–75) and has declared the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (Doctrine & Covenants 1:30). Mormonism is the restoration of true Christianity according to official LDS doctrine.
And let’s be clear what this claim entails. Christians of any other stripe are false Christians. All other Christian churches are false churches. When LDS members attempt to soften or even deny these implications, we must simply point them back to their own authoritative sources.
What’s the point of this discussion? Are we just trying to beat up on the Mormons? Of course not. In John 17:3, Jesus says, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” According to Jesus, what does eternal life consist of? Knowing God. Any God? No, the only true God. Of course, if there is only one true God, any god who is not that God is a false god. And a false god cannot give you eternal life.
Mormons and Christians worship different gods. We took 35 students to Utah last month because eternity is at stake.
Praying for eternal impact,
STR Student Impact