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Defending the Faith: Dan Peterson: Exploring universal Christian beliefs

Published: Friday, Sept. 3 2010 12:00 p.m. MDT

Glenn Beck has been in the news lately and, not surprisingly, so has his religion. Some have warned Christians to be wary of Beck, not because of his political views but because of his religious affiliation. He is, they say, not a real Christian.

I'm betting, though, that he is. I don't know Mr. Beck personally, but he belongs to the same church I do, and I'm a pretty mainstream member. I'll wager that his beliefs resemble mine.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth. I also believe in Jesus Christ, his only-begotten Son, the Lord of all humankind, who, before being born to the Virgin Mary, was the Jehovah of the Old Testament. I believe that Jesus Christ suffered under Pontius Pilate, that he was crucified, died and was buried. While his body lay in the tomb, he descended into the realm of the spirits of the dead and preached the gospel there. On the third day, Jesus rose, physically, from death. He ascended into heaven, where he sits at the right hand of the Father. He will return, however, in power and great glory, to judge the living and the dead. In the meantime, we can receive guidance from the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity.

I believe that Christ founded a church in order to teach his doctrine and administer the ordinances of salvation to all humanity and that the fellowship of the Saints, Christ's disciples, transcends not only all ethnic, cultural and national divisions but even death itself. I believe in the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the body, which are made possible only through the gracious Atonement of Jesus Christ, in whom we have our only hope of salvation. And, finally, I believe in everlasting life.

Some will have recognized that the structure and phrasing of the two paragraphs above were modeled, quite consciously, on the ancient "Apostles' Creed" — a text dating to roughly the late fifth century. In the modern translation favored by the Church of England, the Apostles' Creed reads as follows:

"I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

"I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen."

Now, obviously, I've changed the language a bit. Mostly, I wanted to use more familiar or more typically Mormon terms. For instance, the word "catholic" is rarely used, nowadays, in its original sense of "universal" — it should be obvious that Henry VIII's church isn't announcing its surrender to the pope when it recites the Apostles' Creed — but Latter-day Saints do most definitely believe that the church established by Jesus has a universal mission.

More significantly, where the original Apostles' Creed says that Christ was "conceived by the Holy Spirit" ("conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto"), Latter-day Saints will want to insist that Jesus is the divine Son of God the Father. The scriptures are completely silent as to the mechanism of Christ's conception, and they do say that the Holy Spirit came upon Mary (Luke 1:35), but they also plainly declare that Jesus was and is "the Son of the Highest" (Luke 1:32). And emphasis on the fact that Jesus is the Son of God the Father scarcely seems a plausible basis for claiming that Latter-day Saints aren't Christians.

Believing what we do, because we agree so closely with the traditional Apostles' Creed, either Glenn Beck and I (and, for that matter, Mitt Romney and Harry Reid) are Christians, or those who formulated the creed and all those who have affirmed it during the centuries since then haven't been, either.

 

For more on Latter-day Saints as Christians, see Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, "Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints" (Provo: FARMS, 1998).

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