LDS Christianity: Differences that matter

Published: Sunday, Nov. 27 2011 10:00 p.m. MST

"'Is Mormonism Christian?' is a very important question," writes Matt Slick of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. "The answer is equally important and simple. No. Mormonism is not Christian.

"If you are a Mormon," Slick adds, "please realize that CARM is not trying to attack you, your character or the sincerity of your belief." For a variety of reasons that Slick explains in his paper, "the Mormon is not Christian — in spite of all his claims that he is Christian."

Not all Christians share that view. Joel Osteen, senior pastor of Houston's Lakewood Church, often referred to as America's largest "mega church," said recently that he believes that Latter-day Saints are Christians.

"I do not know if it's the purest form of Christianity like I grew up with," he said, "but I know Mormons … and I hear Mitt Romney say, 'I believe Jesus is the Son of God, and I believe he's my Savior.' That's one of the core issues. I'm sure there are other issues we don't agree on, but I can say the Baptists and the Methodists and the Catholics don't agree on everything."

And so there is confusion on the subject, which is why Millet, Mouw and their colleagues have been meeting twice a year for 12 years. This is not, Millet points out, an effort to dilute or compromise doctrinal distinctives. Rather, he said, the collective hope of the group is to "build greater understanding, to do away with misconceptions and to better represent one another."

"Latter-day Saints are probably as guilty of misrepresenting traditional Christian beliefs as Christians are of misrepresenting ours," Millet said. "As a teacher, I take it upon myself to correct my students when they portray evangelical beliefs inaccurately. I tell them, 'We don't want them to misrepresent us, do we? Then we don't want to misrepresent them, either.'"

"No one has shown any impulse to walk away from the table of dialogue," Mouw said. "While I am not prepared to reclassify Mormonism as possessing undeniably Christian theology, I do accept many of my Mormon friends as genuine followers of the Jesus whom I worship as the divine Savior."

If these scholars and scriptorians have been unable to agree on every point of doctrine they have discussed through more than a decade of dialogue and debate, they have at least been able to come to some level of agreement on exactly what it is that they disagree on.

Christian umbrellas

By way of context, Millet explained that he sees Christianity as a series of umbrellas. Under the large umbrella of Christianity there are three smaller umbrellas: Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant. Underneath the Protestant umbrella are three additional umbrellas:

mainline Christians (Episcopalians, United Church of Christ, Methodists, Congregationalists, northern Baptists, most Lutherans, most Presbyterians, for example)

fundamentalist Christians (ultra-conservatives like Jerry Falwell and Bob Jones)

and evangelicals, "a Protestant group that tries to maintain a kind of middle ground," Millet said.

"Theologically, the fundamentalists and the evangelicals would be pretty similar," Millet said. "But philosophically, there are differences, some of them significant. And mainline Christians may not even be on the same page theologically with the other two groups. There are mainline Christians, for example, who question the divinity of Jesus Christ."

As a result, Millet said, its probably true that many mainline Christians accept Mormons as Christians. "They tend to be more open and accepting," Millet said. "Evangelicals, not so much."

So where do Latter-day Saints fit among the umbrellas of Christianity?

"That's a matter of some debate," Millet said. "Some think we should be a fourth umbrella of Protestant Christianity. Others think we should be a fourth umbrella of Christianity, along with Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Protestants."

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