LDS Christianity: Differences that matter

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

3. Latter-day Saints believe in additional scripture. "The problem here is that evangelical Christians have a strong feeling about the sufficiency of the Bible," Millet explained. "They view the Bible as the infallible, sufficient, final word of God. They believe that our claim to additional scripture is prima facie evidence of our rejection of the Bible, or our feeling that it is somehow deficient. They say we have a low view of the Bible, whereas they have a high view of the Bible. We say, no, you misunderstand. [LDS apostle Elder Dallin H. Oaks] refers to what we call the Standard Works — the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price — as 'the Royal Family of scripture.' I say, 'I don't love one family member more than another. I love all four of them, equally.'"

Those three issues, Millet said, are "to some extent irreconcilable. Either God is an exalted man, or he is not. You either accept additional scripture, or you don't. There's no middle ground. You simply agree to disagree."

Three related issues

There are three other issues that frequently emerge during the course of discussions between Latter-day Saints and evangelical Christians. Most of them are in some way related to the first three issues, but they tend to have a life of their own ("My experience with the following three issues," Millet said, "is if we explain them properly, our evangelical friends may not agree with us, but they at least understand us"):

1. Grace. "Many evangelical Christians have been told that Mormons believe they are saved by their own works, that we don't believe we are saved by the grace of Jesus Christ," Millet said. "The actual doctrine of the church, which is found throughout the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, is that we are indeed saved by grace, which is freely given, the greatest of all the gifts of God. But we believe that this gift must be received by faith in Christ, which is manifest in deeds of faithful discipleship and obedience to God's commandments. Sometimes the language we use makes it sound like we don't believe in grace, but it is clear from the scriptures and the teachings of church leaders that we do. Every one of us is in need of pardoning mercy. Jesus is our only hope."

2. Latter-day Saints believe that man may become like God. This issue is related to the first issue mentioned above. "To say that man may one day become as God is . . . well, that sounds almost heretical to the evangelical Christian," Millet said. "We believe in the New Testament where we are told to 'be ye therefore perfect,' or that we can be 'joint-heirs with Christ' and 'partakers of the divine nature,' and that 'we shall be like him' . . . We believe that one of the purposes of the gospel is to cleanse us of sin, to purify our nature, so that we can acquire what Paul called 'the gifts of the spirit' and 'the fruit of the spirit.' These are Christ-like attributes. As we grow in those we become more like our Savior until one day we are prepared with our families to dwell with God and Christ forever, having acquired that divine nature. No thinking Latter-day Saint supposes that we will one day unseat the Father or the Son — that we will somehow take their place or be independent of them. They will be the Gods that we worship forever. I'm not aware of anything in the official literature of the church that even suggests that we will ever worship anyone but the Godhead."

3. Latter-day Saints believe in ongoing revelation. Evangelical Christians believe that God answers prayers and that he can provide inspiration and divine influence, but they believe that revelation ended with the Bible, that no more is needed. Latter-day Saints believe in living prophets and apostles who receive revelation from God for the ongoing benefit of his children. They believe this revelation enhances the personal inspiration and guidance one can receive through prayer and scripture study. "Modern, current, continuing revelation is another one of those issues that you either believe or you don't," Millet said. "I remember after one of our first meetings, when we had spoken at some length about revelation, Richard Mouw sat back in his chair and said, 'It seems to me it all comes down to Joseph Smith's first vision and divine authority.' I said, 'I couldn't have said it better.' Everything comes back to this, no matter what the issue is."

Much in common

There are, of course, other issues of theological difference between evangelical Christians and Latter-day Saints, including issues that are significant to other Christian communities: the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the concept of hell, and LDS temple worship, to name a few. But between evangelical Christians and Latter-day Saints, Millet said, the three issues (and three related issues) identified here are the critical questions that lead back to the first question: are Latter-day Saints Christians?

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