LDS Christianity: Differences that matter

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

Still others, like Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, think that the LDS Church should be considered "the fourth Abrahamic religion," along with Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all of which trace their spiritual roots back to the Old Testament patriarch Abraham.

Regardless of the umbrella under which others choose to place The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this fact remains: Latter-day Saints consider themselves to be Christians, while many others in the Christian community do not.

According to a new national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, released last week, 51 percent of Americans think Mormons are Christians, 32 percent think they are not (this number jumps to 47 percent among white evangelical Protestants) and 17 percent don't know, or refuse to comment. When compared with their own religion, 65 percent of Americans think "Mormonism is very different."

"That there are significant doctrinal differences between LDS theology and the theology of other Christian churches is not in dispute," Millet said. "From an LDS point of view, if there were no differences, there would have been no need for the Savior to re-establish his church through Joseph Smith. The question is, are those differences so great as to make us non-Christian?"

In other words, Millet said, citing a question frequently asked by one of his colleagues in the ongoing dialogue: "How much bad theology can the grace of Christ cover?"

Three major issues

Millet indicates that from his perspective there are three major issues that separate Mormons from evangelical Christians and many other Christian groups (keeping in mind that within that large Christian umbrella there are wide differences on matters of theology and philosophy):

1. Latter-day Saints believe God has a physical body, and is in fact an exalted man. "Evangelical Christians find this belief to be strange at best and blasphemous at worst," Millet said. "They feel that it shortens the distance between creator and creature. They feel the chasm between God and man is an infinite, uncross-able chasm. Then we come along and talk about a God that is knowable and comprehensible — who is the Father of our spirits and highly approachable. They feel that Joseph Smith bridged a chasm that one should not even presume to bridge. They would say that God is a personal being, but he is a spirit that has no form. He's a person, a personality, but certainly not a man."

2. Latter-day Saints do not accept the post-New Testament church councils and creeds as inspired. "For much of the Christian world," Millet said, "those are considered to be a very significant facet of Christian history. They helped to form and formulate Christianity centuries after the death of Christ. For example, the doctrine of the Trinity places us outside the realm of historical Christianity [Slick of CARM, quoted earlier, explains the Trinity thus: "God is a trinity of persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit ... They are not three gods and not three beings. They are three distinct persons; yet, they are all the one God." According to Millet, LDS doctrine holds that the "Godhead" is comprised of three distinct beings — God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost — who are one in purpose, power, knowledge and character, but separate, distinct individuals]. This is where we are. We're outside the realm of historical Christianity . . . we're an entirely different manifestation of Christianity — restored Christianity. While many Protestants have some difficulty with certain matters of Roman Catholic theology, at least they agree on the Trinity and the creeds. It's no wonder that they don't know what to do with us or where to place us."

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