Are Latter-day Saints Christian? Certainly!
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly nicknamed "Mormons," worship Jesus Christ, but some vocal critics claim that we don't believe in Him at all or that we don't count as "Christians." Here I respond to some of their arguments, many of which are based on novel definitions of "Christian" that often would exclude the Christians of the New Testament or even Christ Himself. A fascinating situation! This is one of several pages in a suite of "Frequently Asked Questions about Latter-day Saint Beliefs." This work is solely the responsibility of Jeff Lindsay and has not been officially endorsed by the Church.
Mormanity is my LDS blog, in operation since 2004. Numerous issues have been discussed there. Join the fray! Or visit the other blogs on my blogroll there.
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YES! As a Latter-day Saint, I have been taught, and have personally chosen, to accept Christ as my Savior. I am taught to follow Him and feast on His word. I have no qualms in insisting that real Mormons are Christians. We worship Christ and covenant to follow Him. We are baptized in His name to follow Him, we partake of the sacrament (the holy communion) weekly to remember the sacrifice of His blood and to remember His victory over death, we pray to the Father in His name, and we strive to obey Him, knowing that it is only through His merits and grace that we are saved. He is constantly held up in our meetings as our Savior, our Redeemer, our Lord, and the author of our faith and our salvation. We believe that He stands at the head of His living Church, leading it as in days of old through revelation to His prophets and apostles. The Christ we worship is the living Christ, the Son of God, foretold in the Old Testament, revealed in the New Testament, and affirmed in The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.
For a more in-depth perspective, consider the comments of President Gordon B. Hinckley at the April 2000 General Conference, entitled "My Testimony." Can any sincere person read those powerful words and wonder if that man is not a Christian, or if this Church is not all about following the living Christ, our Savior and Redeemer? See also the article, "Are Mormons Christians?" at the Church's Mormon.org site, and see "Mormonism 101" at the LDS Newsroom. official LDS site. Another good resource is "Latter-day Saint Christianity: Ten Basic Issues" - an excellent online booklet that deals with some common questions and controversies about Latter-day Saint beliefs.
We are Christian because we look to Christ for salvation and worship Him and the Father. We are not saved by our works, but through the grace of Christ (as explained more fully below). We believe in God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost as the members of the Godhead, being one in purpose, heart, and intent. I discuss these issues more fully below, noting that we do differ from many churches in our theology. Although I may disagree with the theology of some other Christians, that gives me no right to say that they are not Christians because they don't see things the way I do. If someone looks to Christ for salvation and seeks to follow Him, in my mind, that's enough to qualify as being a Christian, regardless of other theological differences.
Now let's examine the two primary charges. We are said to be unchristian because 1) we allegedly think we must keep the commandments to be saved and 2) we do not accept the standard doctrine of the Trinity. These issues are treated in more length in my discussion on grace, works, and salvation), but here's my quick response to both charges:
1) Commandment keeping? In Matthew 19:16-22, somebody asked Christ directly what he needed to do to have eternal life. Christ answered: "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." We believe Christ said this for a reason - and there are dozens of similar statements in the Bible (scripture-lovers may wish to study a sampling of such statements). This does not mean that we are saved by works, but that we must follow Christ to receive His grace. We will be saved from physical death - thanks to the resurrection of Christ - by grace, regardless of what we do (1 Cor. 15:20-22). We also can be saved from spiritual death through the grace of Christ, thanks to His infinite atoning sacrifice. (Spiritual death = being cast out of God's presence because of sin, losing "eternal life" - the heavenly immortal life that is possible for those living in the presence of God.) But to receive that grace and forgiveness, we must repent of our sins (Matt. 4:17, Mark 6:12; Acts 2:37,38; Acts 17:30; Heb. 6:1-3), have faith in Him, follow Him and strive to keep His commandments (Matt. 7:21, Rom. 2:4-11), "relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save" (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 31:19). I know that many good Christians will disagree with my interpretation of scripture, but I hope they will still accept my sincere declaration that Latter-day Saints are Christians and are taught to have faith in Christ and to look to Him and His grace for salvation. (A more detailed discussion is given in my article on faith, grace, works, and salvation.)
2) The Trinity? According to my reading of history, the doctrine of the Trinity as taught today (including the concept of an immaterial Godhead, one in substance, bodiless) was formulated in councils of men amid hot debate many years after Christ and the apostles. The doctrine of the Trinity is defined in a variety of creeds and statements such as the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and, as an example of a more recent formulation from 1646, the Westminster Confession of Faith (background provided at Wikipedia's article on the Westminster Confession of Faith). In many of the creeds and related statements of belief, it is taught that there is one God manifest in three persons, all of one substance, without body, parts, or passions. This differs from the LDS view, as we shall see. Many feel it is exactly what the Bible teaches, but other sincere Christians interpret the text differently.
Latter-day Saints believe in God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, and believe that they are one in purpose and one in heart, but not one in substance. Recall the great prayer of Christ in John 17. There (in verse 21), Christ prayed that His followers "all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me; that they also may be one in us." In verse 22, He again prayed "that they may be one, even as we are one." In my view, this kind of oneness is a unity of purpose, intent, and heart, not a blending of substance into one being. When Christ prayed (many times) to His Father in Heaven, we believe that He was doing exactly that - communicating with His Father. Likewise, In Acts 7:55,56, before being killed by hateful critics, Stephen looked up towards heaven "and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God." He saw two Beings. Further, in the creation story in Genesis 1, God (Elohim, a plural noun) says in verse 26: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." We feel inclined to take that literally. (Note that the same wording is used to describe the physical similarity between Adam and one of his sons in Genesis 5:1-3; see also Heb. 1:3 and James 3:9.) Likewise, I see a similar concept in James 3:9, which says that "men ... are made after the similitude of God." I know our view goes against what most churches teach and is certainly open to debate, but taking the Bible too literally should not be sufficient cause to say we are not Christians.
We really bother some people by our literal views of Luke 24 (and other passages on the resurrection and the nature of God). In this chapter (verses 36-43), the resurrected Christ shows his body to his surprised disciples. They first think it is a spirit, but Christ asks them to feel his tangible body: "handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." To drive the point home, he then asks for some food, and eats it in front of them. We actually believe that this happened and was a real event, not a dream or a metaphor. In contrast to my understanding of the standard Trinity doctrine (God "without body, parts, and passions"), we believe in a literal resurrection and believe that Christ is a resurrected Being with a tangible body, exactly as He showed us in Luke 24. And Christ, in the image of God, said in John 14:9 that "he that hath seen me hath seen the Father" - which I interpret as meaning that Christ looks like the Father. This is consistent with Col. 1:15 which describes Christ, the "firstborn of every creature," as "the image of the invisible God." Christ, in my view, has a tangible, glorious body. It is spiritual, being divine and permanently united with His spirit, but it is also tangible and real. It does not limit Him, but adds to His power and glory (see Philippians 3:21).
All this means, of course, that we believe God and Christ to be one Godhead (with the Holy Ghost), perfectly one in purpose, yet not one in substance. I feel that view is quite consistent with the Bible. Again, in Acts 7:55,56, Stephen, who is being martyred by enemies of the Church, sees God and Christ standing at the right hand of God. He saw two distinct beings - just as Joseph Smith did in his First Vision. In John 14:28, Christ says that "my Father is greater than I." In John 20:17, the newly resurrected Lord tells Mary to tell His disciples ("my brethren") that He will "ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and unto my God, and your God." Paul, in 1 Cor. 11:3, notes that the "head of Christ is God" just as "the head of the woman is the man" and the "head of every man is Christ." The implication to me is that distinct beings have distinct roles, allowing one to be the head, but in each case there is or should be unity. Indeed, the husband and wife should be "one flesh" according to the scriptures, believers and Christ should be one just as Christ and God are one (John 17:20-23) - but this unity does not imply that there is only one Being having three roles or manifestations or even "persons" of one substance. (You may also wish to compare Matt. 5:48 with Luke 13:32, Heb. 2:10, and Heb. 5:8,9.) God is the Father, Christ is the Son, yet he represents the Father and is God Himself, part of the united Godhead. It is appropriate to call Christ the Everlasting Father, not only because of His unity with God but because of His role as Creator, as described in Heb. 1:1-3 and Col. 1:15-18, and as Author of our salvation.
The distinctness of the three Beings in the Godhead is evident in Matthew 3:13-17, in which Christ is baptized. In this event, Christ is in the water, the Holy Ghost is descending in the form of a dove, and the Father speaks from heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Likewise, the many times that Christ went off to pray to the Father in private would be confusing, in my opinion, if Christ were the same substance and Being as the Father. In my reading of the Bible, they are distinct. Though there are distinct Beings, there is only one Godhead and only one source of salvation. Through their unity, to worship Christ is to worship the Father. In general, we worship and pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ, though Christ represents the Father and is one with Him.
Of course, you don't have to agree with us! Feel free to charge us with being overly literal. And for good measure, why not say we are wackos and fools? But please don't say that we aren't Christians if we don't interpret the Bible the way you do. It pains me much less to be called a wacko and a fool (which is at least partially correct, in fact) than to be rashly denied the one label that I truly desire: Christian.
An amazing new deception among anti-Mormons who really must know better is corrupting the words of President Gordon B. Hinckley, arguing that he said we don't believe in the Jesus of the Bible. Ah! An admission that we aren't Christian. What more proof is needed? Here's a passage giving President Hinckley's words from his famous interview with Larry King:
"In bearing testimony of Jesus Christ, President Hinckley spoke of those outside the Church who say Latter-day Saints 'do not believe in the traditional Christ.' 'No, I don't. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times. He together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820, and when Joseph left the grove that day, he knew more of the nature of God than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages.'" (LDS Church News Week ending June 20, 1998, p.7 )
You said that he denied believing in the Christ of the Bible. What President Hinckley is saying is well known to LDS people: we don't believe in the kind of Christ taught by modern tradition, the Christ of the Nicene Creed and other traditional expressions of belief devised long after the Bible. President Hinckley is distinguishing us from the Trinitarian tradition of modern Christianity, not from the Bible.
President Hinckley's views were further clarified in the Sunday morning session of the April 2002 General Conference session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
As a Church we have many critics, many of them. They say we do not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity. There is some substance to what they say. Our faith, our knowledge is not based on ancient traditions, the creeds which came of a finite understanding and out of the almost infinite discussions of men trying to arrive at a definition of the risen Christ. Our faith, our knowledge comes from the witness of a prophet in this dispensation who saw before him the great God of the universe and His Beloved son, the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. They spoke to him. He spoke to them. He testified openly, unequivocally, and unabashedly of that great vision of the Almighty Redeemer of the world glorifying our understanding, but unequivocating in the knowledge it brought.
We have affirmed over and over a belief in Christ of the Bible, not a belief in the Trinity, which in LDS scripture and theology is part of what is referred to as the "traditions of men." President Hinckley in his comments to Larry King and in General Conference was explaining that when Joseph Smith saw Christ standing on the right hand of God in the First Vision, he saw that Jesus was a separate Being from the Father, and thus suddenly knew more of the true nature of God and the Son than all the Trinitarian theologians in the world knew because he had seen for himself that the traditions handed down from the time of the post-Biblical church councils and creeds were wrong. Joseph saw, as Stephen of old had seen in Acts 7:55,56, that Jesus was a separate Being from the Father, in the image of the Father, and that we are all created in the physical image of both the Father and the Son. We definitely do believe in the real Jesus of the Bible and have affirmed that incessantly, but we reject the post-biblical creeds that gave the world the tradition of a God fashioned by Hellenistic philosophy, without body, parts, and passions, wherein the Son and the Father are of one immaterial substance.
If someone knew very little of LDS doctrine, I can understand that they might mistake "tradition" for the Bible in President Hinckley's quote. But those who twist President Hinckley's words to claim that we don't believe in the Jesus of the Bible are wasting their time and their talents: they are desperately needed in politics.
In spite of the clearly scriptural basis for our belief that we should follow Christ and strive to obey his commandments in order to gain full access to the gift of His grace (see my discussion on grace, works, and salvation), many of our critics claim that our approach is a departure from "historic Christianity." What some of them don't understand is that their Christian tradition, which they call "historic Christianity," is actually a fairly modern flavor of Christianity deriving from a sixteenth-century movement in northern Europe and is not nearly so universal or historic as they think. Turning to the earliest writings of Christianity, we find doctrines that actually come remarkably close to the views of modern Latter-day Saints, views that would get those early Christians labeled as unchristian heretics by some defenders of "historic Christianity." I believe that anyone familiar with genuine LDS doctrine will enjoy reading a collection of the earliest Christian writings available outside the New Testament in The Apostolic Fathers, (2nd ed., translated by J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, ed. and rev. by M.W. Holmes, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1989). Most of the sermons and letters in this collection resonate well with LDS beliefs, and some sound like typical, modern General Conference sermons. On the other hand, those who deny the importance of obedience, works, continuing repentance, striving for perfection, and respect for bishops and apostles and living prophets, will be troubled by this book or may dismiss it as heresy. But those writings are respected, undeniably Christian writings from before the era of Augustine and the creeds, an era in which Greek philosophy and political machinations had much sway on the development of the surviving remnants of the original Church.
For example, here are some passages from "The Letter of the Romans to the Corinthians, Commonly Known as First Clement," in The Apostolic Fathers:
Seeing, then, that he desires all his beloved to participate in repentance, he confirmed it by an act of his almighty will. Therefore, let us be obedient to his magnificent and glorious will, let us fall down before him and return to his compassions, laying aside the fruitless toil and the strife and the jealousy that leads to death. Let us fix our eyes on those who perfectly served his magnificent glory....Abraham, who was called "the Friend," was found faithful in that he became obedient to the words of God. (p. 33)
[L]et us strengthen ourselves, that we may humbly walk in obedience to his holy words....Therefore it is right and holy, brothers, that we should be obedient to God.... (p. 35)
Take care, dear friends, lest his many benefits turn into a judgment upon all of us, as will happen if we fail to live worthily of him, and to do harmoniously those things which are good and well-pleasing in his sight.... Let us realize how near he is, and that nothing escapes him, either our thoughts or the plans which we make. (p. 40)
[L]et us do all the things that pertain to holiness... "For God," he says, "resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Let us therefore join with those to whom grace is given by God.... [Let us be] humble and self-controlled, keeping ourselves far from all backbiting and slander, being justified by works and not by words....
And so we, having been called through his will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we have done in holiness of heart, but through faith, by which the almighty God has justified all who ever existed from the beginning.... What then shall we do, brothers?... let us hasten with earnestness and zeal to accomplish every good work.... It is, therefore necessary that we should be zealous to do good, for all things come from him. For he forewarns us, "Behold, the Lord comes, and his reward is with him, to pay each one according to his work." (pp. 44-46)
Blessed are we, dear friends, if we continue to keep God's commandments in the harmony of love, that our sins may be forgiven through love. (p. 56)
"My understanding is that the LDS Church believes that we may become gods... And more than that, the church believes that God Himself used to be like us! This seems contradictory to Christianity."
I definitely consider myself a Christian, meaning that I look to Christ as my Savior and Redeemer, and that I seek to follow Him. You may disagree with other doctrines, but please don't assume this means that I am not Christian. However, I realize that some of our doctrines, as painted by opponents of the Church, sound odd, especially our ideas about the relationship between man and God. But our doctrines are rooted in scripture and are those of the earliest Christians - really.
Is not Christ God? Is he not one with the Father? Did not Christ come to earth - being born of a mortal woman - and obtain a physical body, as we do? Was He not like us? (Heb. 2:16-18) Didn't He eat and drink and sleep - and then die? How marvelous that God himself - Jesus Christ - did become like one of us to put Himself in a position where He could take upon Himself our sins, opening the door for mercy and forgiveness, and that He also gave His life that He might take it up again, opening the door for all to be resurrected. Yes, we believe that. It pains me that so many ministers proclaim we are not Christian because they say that "the church believes that God Himself used to be like us." God is eternal and His truths and His ways do not change - yet Jesus Christ, God, became mortal and then obtained a tangible, resurrected body (Luke 24). It's not blasphemous or unchristian to believe that.
As to humans becoming "gods", you refer to our much-attacked belief that we can become more like Christ, becoming eternal, resurrected beings in the kingdom of God sharing some of the attributes of Christ and the Father. To me, that does not mean that anyone will worship us rather than the Father, for all glory is His and to Him forever. This is a heavy doctrine that is quite Biblical. Romans 8: 14-17 points out that we are sons of God, and thus can be "JOINT HEIRS" with Christ, and that we will be glorified with a degree of glory. That pretty much summarizes my beliefs on this matter. It's heavy, ponderous, controversial, but not unchristian.
For more information on this topic, please see my LDSFAQ page on the Divine Potential of the Children of God.
After reading the above comments, another person recently wrote me that LDS people are not Christian because we think that Christ became like us:
"I don't personally think that Jesus Christ was like us (human). I don't know any human that can do the miracles he did, neither do I know any humans that can resurrected and return as he did."
But this is the point of His Atonement, that He became like us that we might be able to become more like Him. He was unique in being perfect and having divine power to overcome death, but he was also mortal by virtue of His earthly mother, Mary, which gave him power to die, to suffer and to experience temptation as we do. He was like us in many ways, yet was fully the Son of God. While He was perfect, we are also commanded to become perfect like Him (Matt. 5:48) and are promised that we shall resurrect and have a glorious immortal body like His (Phil. 3:21), that we may become "like Him" (1 John 3:2) and be joint-heirs with Him (Romans 8:14-18). Not only does He promise us the blessing of resurrection and eternal life, if we accept and follow Him, but He sometimes gives humans His power to do mighty miracles as He did (e.g., Moses, Stephen, Peter, Paul, etc.).
Consider a few of the many relevant passages of New Testament scripture:
6 But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him?
7 Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands:
8 Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.
9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.
10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
11 For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren,
12 Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.
13 And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me.
. . .
16 For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.
17 Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
18 For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.
5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
His followers even spoke of Him as a "man" - at least in some ways:
Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:
But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
1 Timothy 2:5
For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
1 Corinthians 15
20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.
11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.
12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.
13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.
(This question and related ones are addressed in more detail on my LDSFAQ page about the divine potential of human beings.)
If we fully follow Christ, we can become "joint-heirs" with Him (Romans 8:14-18), becoming like him (1 John 3:2) by putting on the divine nature (2 Peter 1: 4-10). Such Christ-centered beings are sons and daughters of God (Acts 17:28; Heb. 12:9) who can become the kind of beings that Christ called "gods" in John 10:34-36:
Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
If he called them gods, unto whom the word of god came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?
Such beings are "gods" in a limited sense, called so because they can represent God and serve Him with power. They could be called heavenly servants, but the Bible uses the term "gods" (the Hebrew "elohim") several times to describe non-ultimate beings who are still subject to God.
In Latter-day Saint theology, we are here on this earth as part of a divine process that can - if we follow Christ and fully accept his grace allow us to become one with Christ, as Christ is one with the Father (John 17:20-23); to sit with Christ on His throne (Rev. 3:21); to receive a glorified, immortal body like the body that Christ has (Philip. 3:21); and to partake of the divine nature and be given all things pertaining to life and godliness, receiving glory from God (2 Peter 1:3-4). All this adds to the glory of God, just as a parent is pleased and "glorified" by the success and happiness of his children.
In 1 Corinthians 8:5,6, Paul notes that there are many gods (in the small "g" sense), but these are not beings that we worship, for to us, there is only one God, the Eternal Father. We believe that there may be and will be many resurrected beings who have become joint-heirs with Christ and can thus be called "gods," but they are not our Savior, our Creator, our Lord, and our God. To us, there is and always will be but one God, that Being who is properly called the "God of gods" (Deut. 10:17), the Almighty God, even Elohim, the Eternal Father. We will always worship and follow Him.
Are these views non-Biblical? No. Do they contradict the views held in early Christianity? No. The widely respect ancient Christian saint, Clement of Alexandria, expressed this view:
"Those who have been perfected are given their reward and their honors. They have done with their purification, they have done with the rest of their service, though it be a holy service, with the holy; now they become pure in heart, and because of their close intimacy with the Lord there awaits them a restoration to eternal contemplation; and they have received the title of 'gods' since they are destined to be enthroned with the other 'gods' who are ranked next below the savior." (Stromata 7:10 (55-56), in Henry S. Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers, London, Oxford Univ. Press, 1969, pp. 243-244.)
Likewise wrote Saint Jerome:
"'Give thanks to the God of Gods.' The prophet is referring to those Gods of whom it is written, I said 'ye are gods;' and again: 'God arises in the divine assembly.'" ("Homily 47 on Psalm 135," in The Homilies of Saint Jerome, ed. Marie L. Ewald, 2 vols., Washington, D.C., The Catholic University of America Press, 1964, 1:353.)
Even the great John Chrysostom (A.D. 407) wrote that "man can, by his own efforts, attain the likeness of God by mastering his passions." (J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, Rev. edition, Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1978, p. 348, as cited by Peterson and Ricks, Offenders for a Word, Aspen Books, Salt Lake City, UT, 1992, p.79.)
Though less widely respected than Clement or Jerome or other early saints, the early Christian writer, Origen, was hardly engaging in non-scriptural or apostate doctrine when he wrote the following comments on the Gospel of John while serving as head of the Christian Church in Alexandria, Egypt:
"There are some gods of whom God is god, as we hear in the prophecy, 'Thank ye the God of gods,' and "The God of gods hath spoken, and called the earth.' Now God, according to the Gospel, 'is not the God of the dead but of the living.' Those gods, then, are living of whom God is god. The Apostle, too, writing to the Corinthians, says, 'As there are gods many and lords many,' and so we have spoken of these gods as really existing. Now there are, besides the gods of whom God is god, certain others." (Origen, "Commentary on John, in Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1886-1890, reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978-1981, 10:315.)
Are these views incompatible with modern mainstream Christianity? Many churches are appalled with our doctrine, no doubt, but consider this quote from that wonderful Christian, C.S. Lewis:
"The command Be ye perfect [Matt. 5:48] is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were "gods" and he is going to make good His words. If we let Him - for we can prevent Him, if we choose - He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what he said."
(Mere Christianity, Collier Books, MacMillan Publ. Co., New York, 1943; paperback edition, 1960, p. 160 - it's the last paragraph of Chapter 9, "Counting the Cost," in Book IV)
As further food for thought, recent studies of ancient Judaism and early Christianity have identified the doctrine of "theosis" - the idea than man can become divine or godlike - as an important theological element, one which has been largely abandoned in recent centuries. The earliest Biblical occurrence of this idea is in Genesis 3:22, for when Adam partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, God said, "the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil." Adam became godlike - in a sense - through the knowledge that he gained (cf. Psalms 82:6). This concept is prevalent in Biblical and post-Biblical Judaism, according to a recent scholarly, non-LDS work by Peter Hayman ("Monotheism - A Misused Word in Jewish Studies?," Journal of Jewish Studies, 42: 1-15, Spring 1991, as cited by Peterson and Ricks, p.78), who writes:
The theme of 'becoming like one of us' reveals itself as the lurking subtext of Judaism from Adam to Nachman of Bratslav. But how does this material square with the supposed transcendental monotheism of Judaism from the post-exilic period on? Not at all, as far as I can see!... [Many Jewish mythical texts] presuppose that humans can become divine and dispose of the powers of God." (Hayman, pp. 4-5)
Extensive literature, for example, deals with human ascension to heaven as deification, with Enoch as a common example. Evidence for this from early Christianity and the Enoch literature is treated by Alan F. Segal in Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee (Yale, New Haven, CT, 1960, pp. 22, 34-71, as cited by Peterson and Ricks, p. 78).
In addition to the quotes above from Jerome, Origen, John Chrysostom and Clement of Alexandria, the possibility of human deification was held by that "champion of orthodoxy," Athanasius (e.g., see Keith E. Norman, "Deification: The Content of Athanasian Soteriology," Ph.D. Dissertation, Duke University, 1980, pp. 77-106; and Clyde L. Manschreck, A History of Christianity in the World, 2nd ed., Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1985, p. 62, both as cited by Ricks and Peterson, p. 78). We find it in early Orthodox tradition as well, for the 'chief idea of St. Maximus [who died in 662 A.D.] as of all of Eastern theology, [was] the idea of deification" (S.L. Epifanovic as quoted by Jaroslav Pelikan, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700). The Christian Tradition, vol. 2, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1974, p. 10, as cited by Peterson and Ricks, p. 79).
So what does all this mean in terms of LDS doctrine and our relationship to "historic Christianity"? The German Protestant church historian, Ernst Benz, speaks of this doctrine as a Christian doctrine, and says:
"One can think what one wants of this doctrine of progressive deification, but one thing is certain: with this anthropology Joseph Smith is closer to the view of man held by the Ancient Church than the precursors of the Augustinian doctrine of original sin were, who considered the thought of such a substantial connection between God and man as the heresy, par excellance."
Ernst W. Benz, "Imago Dei: Man in the Image of God," in Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian Parallels, ed. Truman G. Madsen, Religious Studies Center, BYU, Provo, UT, 1978, pp. 215-216, as cited by Peterson and Ricks, p. 80.
The LDS belief that man can become more like God (theosis) is commonly said to prove that we have departed from the Bible and historic Christianity, but this attack is patently unfair. It is found in the Bible, in early Jewish and Christian writings, and in a direct quote from Christ himself (John 10:34). It is an important concept in the writings of C.S. Lewis. Does acceptance of this doctrine make one a pagan? Some say so, but they are not quite being fair. If "historic Christianity" is taken to mean modern Protestant fundamentalism, then I'll admit we have departed in a big way. But who has really departed from what? Now I think you'll never hear a Latter-day Saint saying that Protestants aren't Christian because they don't accept our views, but if we were as nasty as some say we are, we could make the old sword of exclusion swing both ways. But we accept all as Christians who sincerely believe in Christ, regardless of how well we think they interpret the Bible or how well they heed the words of past and living prophets of God.
Actually, when it comes to God, we are all infants and know almost nothing. Latter-day Saints especially must be very cautious in how they interpret and understand the doctrine of becoming more like God. It is too heavy and ponderous for us to understand or contemplate, and should only be treated reverently and cautiously. In any case, all glory is to the Father, whom we will forever worship and adore. May we learn to know Him and His Son (John 17:3), for that is eternal life.
Are we Christians? Absolutely. We are different in our views from many modern Churches, but it is Christ through whom we gain salvation, Christ that gives us hope, Christ that breaks the bands of sin and death for us and offers us eternal life in His presence with the Father. Through Christ, we can become more like Him and even become joint-heirs of the Father. May we learn to fully accept Christ and follow Him with all our hearts.
2003 Update: The strong relationship between early Christian teachings and LDS doctrine on the divine potential of human beings was explored in a recent master's thesis by a Roman Catholic Dominican monk, Father Jordan Vajda, at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2003, after publication of his thesis, he took the missionary discussions and became LDS, but he was a faithful Catholic when he wrote his thesis. I discuss a couple aspects of his work on my new page of questions for LDS critics, "My Turn." The work in question is Jordan Vajda, OP, "Partakers of the Divine Nature": A Comparative Analysis of the Patristic and Mormon Doctrines of Divinization, master's thesis, Graduate Theological Union at the University of California, Berkeley, 1998, published under the same title as Occasional Paper No. 3 by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (Provo, Utah, 2002).
Father Vajda's conclusion (pp. 56-57) contains this interesting passage, referring to the critics who published the lurid anti-Mormon film, "The Godmakers":
Yet what was meant to be a term of ridicule ["godmakers"] has turned out to be a term of approbation, for the witness of the Greek Fathers of the Church, described in chapter two, is that they also believed that salvation meant "becoming a god." It seems that if one's soteriology cannot accommodate a doctrine of human divinization, then it has at least implicitly, if not explicitly, rejected the heritage of the early Christian church and departed from the faith of first millennium Christianity. . . . And the supreme irony is that such persons should probably investigate the claims of the LDS Church, which proclaims that within itself is to be found the "restoration of all things."
Father Vajda was a faithful Catholic who, at the time of his writing, saw Catholicism as a viable dispensation of original Christianity that can be consistent with early Christian teachings. He did not agree with the LDS view on the Trinity at that time, but recognized that there are significant parallels between early Christian doctrines on "becoming a god" and what we claim to be the restored doctrine of exaltation, and correctly pointed out the fallacies of our critics who charge us with being non-Christian for having such truly Christian doctrines. And I agree that our evangelical critics would do well to consider how far they have departed from early Christianity and to investigate the Restoration found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Now that Father Vajda has become Brother Vajda, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, critics will use that as an excuse to ignore the scholarly work that he published as a Catholic. However, the fact that he eventually converted after examining the LDS position ought to weigh heavily in the thinking of those who are sincerely seeking truth.
"Mormons are not Christians. Mormons believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Christians believe that He was not only the Son of God, but He was God incarnate. Jesus is God the Father and God the Son. That's the difference."
We certainly do believe that Christ is God and Lord. Jesus was and is the Son of God, but He is also part of the Godhead, is one with the Father (see John 10:30 and John 17:20-23), and is called the Father of Heaven and Earth, the Everlasting Father, and the Eternal Father in LDS scriptures (the Book of Mormon, the Bible, Doctrine and Covenants). Among His many titles, the title of Father does not mean He is the same person or same being as God the Father, but expresses His role as the author and finisher of our salvation, as our Redeemer, as the Creator of the earth (in His premortal existence under the direction of the Father), as the Firstfruits of the Resurrection, and as the authorized representative of the Father. Yes, we don't believe that He is the same Being as God the Father, but neither did He! Christ said "My Father is greater than I" in John 14:28. Christ said He did not teach His own doctrines, but only those that He had heard or seen from the Father. Examples are found in John 7:16-18 (especially clear!), John 15:15, John 8:38, John 12:49-50, and John 5:19. Christ spent much time praying and fasting to draw closer to His Father and receive support from Him. Immediately after His Resurrection, he told Mary that He had not yet ascended to His Father (John 20:17). All of this makes no sense at all if they are the same person or same being. The baptism of Christ also provides evidence that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are separate, for they were in three separate places, as recorded in Matthew 3: 13-17. Christ was in the water, the Father spoke from heaven, and the Holy Ghost was descending in the form of a dove. The Father from heaven said, "This is my beloved son." He didn't say "this is me," but that Christ was His Son. Yet though Christ was the Son of God, He is a member of the Godhead with the Father and the Holy Ghost. He is Lord and God, perfectly one in heart and mind with the Father - but they are not of one substance without body, parts or passions, for that teaching (part of the Trinity doctrine) came centuries after Christ as learned men sought to make Christianity more appealing to "educated" people steeped in Greek philosophy, to whom a physically real God with a tangible body was utterly revolting.
The person who posed this question also said that we are not Christian because we don't accept the creeds that define the doctrine of the Trinity. Can you see the irony here? We are condemned as non-Christian (1) for having authoritative writings outside the Bible and (2) for not accepting the extra-Biblical creeds of the third and fourth centuries as authoritative.
Do we accept the Bible as scripture? Yes! Do we accept it as the final authority? No. God is the final authority, which is why it's so important that there be continuing revelation through prophets to guide His Church. If we relied on the Bible as final authority, immediately we face troubling questions: Which Bible? Which translation? Which interpretation? There have been many different canons proposed over the centuries. Even today, the Catholic Bible contains many additional books beyond what is generally accepted by Protestants. And for a given canon, there are many translations, some of which are contradictory. The printed, translated copies of the Bibles we have today are filled with inspiration - as well as the work of human minds. No one of these can be relied on as the final authority. God is the final authority, and we are commanded to live by every word that comes out of His mouth - including words in new volumes of scripture like the Book of Mormon and words from his living prophets and apostles. Can we truly follow Christ - and be true Christians - if we reject those whom he has sent, and if we reject sacred writings He has prepared for us? For more information on this topic, please see my Book of Mormon page.
Of course, since there was no complete Bible as we know it until long after the Apostolic era (just scattered separate epistles and writings, with no known attempts at a canon for decades after the last apostle had died), the earliest Christians also did not rely on the Bible as the final authority. Rather, they relied on continuing revelation from Christ, through apostles and prophets - the rock on which the Church was built.
Remember, the Bible says nothing about itself to imply that the canon is complete. As one of many passages implying incompleteness, consider John 21:25, which states:
"And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen."
John understood that there could have been many other books written to describe all the words and deeds of Christ. What he and others offered was limited to a minute fraction of what could have been written. It is a purely human assumption that all of the truly important material has been recorded and preserved, and an even more ridiculous assumption that we have no need for anything more. We must live by every word of God (Matt. 4:4), and as long as He lives, He will have words to speak, if only we are willing to listen. As we read in Acts 11:26,27, one of the only places in the Bible that uses the word "Christian," the people that were first called Christians had the benefit of having prophets among them. Doesn't it make sense that modern Christians ought to accept God's living prophets and apostles as well?
One form of this question/accusation came from a Christian minister writing to me in 1997:
Orthodox Christianity is defined fairly simply by the acceptance of the apostles creed and the nicean creed as what we believe scripture tells us about Christ and who he is. Mormon theology is not in agreement with these understandings. Furthermore, Mormonism will never be accepted as simply another "Christian denomination" as long as the extra-biblical books are accepted as authoritative alongside of scripture (The Bible).
I find it most interesting that the modern criteria for "orthodox Christianity" used to exclude Latter-day Saints would also exclude the original Christians.
The earliest Christians did not accept the Nicean Creed or any other post-Biblical creeds, for those philosophical statements had not yet been formulated. Indeed, the concept of God being without body, parts, or passions or the concept of being of one immaterial substance is simply not in the earliest Christian writings or the scriptures. Those concepts were later developments, influenced in part by Greek philosophy, as I discuss on my page Are Mormons a Cult? at http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_cult.shtml.
Likewise, if Mormons aren't Christians for accepting additional books of scripture, I'm afraid early Christians weren't either. Ever wonder why it's called the NEW Testament? It was a new volume of scripture - actually a canon of many new volumes of scripture. Many early Christians eventually came to accept the Gospel of Matthew, for example, as NEW scripture in addition to the traditional Jewish writings. Many early Christians also accepted a variety of books not in our current Bible, such as the book of Enoch, the Shepherd of Hermas, and others. (For more information on this topic, see my discussion of the Bible at "http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_Bible.shtml".) If accepting new scripture is incompatible with Christianity, we'll have to exclude the first Christians as well - but at least we'll be in good company. The Jews that rejected Christ had their scriptures and would have no more. They wanted no more revelation, to their condemnation. That same spirit is alive today, opposing modern revelation and scripture from God. How sad that is.
The arguments you use to exclude us as Christians would exclude the Christians of the New Testament. I hope you'll note the significance of this point.
If we are just pretending when we preach of Christ, rejoice in Christ, and worship Christ, it's a pretense that has been going on unabated since the Church was founded in 1830. Our core, foundational focus on Christ has been emphasized and preached and proclaimed loudly from the beginning, as one can learn with but a brief glance at the cover page or almost any chapter in the Book of Mormon, or a quick scan of our Articles of Faith as written by Joseph Smith, or a cursory study of other LDS canonical writings such as the New Testament. The very name of the Church, which some of our critics are loathe to mention, ought to be a clue: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Every Sunday for the past 166 years, Latter-day Saints have partaken of the sacrament (the communion) in remembrance of the death and resurrection of Christ. Every meeting includes prayers that are to the Father in the name of Christ. Baptism and all other ordinances are performed in the name of Christ. Latter-day Saints are Christians. That is not because of any recent change in doctrine or practice - that's what the Church has been about all along. As Joseph Smith explained,
The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.
(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 121)
Here is a quote from Joseph when he speaks of righteous men waging the true Christian warfare against evil (cited in Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Alma P. Burton [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977], p. 226):
He that will war the true Christian warfare against the corruptions of these last days will have wicked men and angels of devils, and all the infernal powers of darkness continually arrayed against him. When wicked and corrupt men oppose, it is a criterion to judge, if a man is warring the Christian warfare. When all men speak evil of you falsely, blessed are ye, etc. Shall a man be considered bad when men speak evil of him? No. If a man stands and opposes the world of sin, he may expect to have all wicked and corrupt spirits arrayed against him. But it will be but a little season, and all these afflictions will be turned away from us, inasmuch as we are faithful, and are not overcome by these evils. By seeing the blessings of the endowment rolling on, the kingdom increasing and spreading from sea to sea, we shall rejoice that we were not overcome by these foolish things. (HC 5:141.)
Of course, the concept that Mormon are Christian was obvious and inherent to anyone familiar with the Church - so obvious that it didn't need to be defended. It was just a matter of fact. As one of many examples that could be cited, here is a comment from B.H. Roberts written in the 1930s in History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (vol. 2, pp. xxiv - xxvi):
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was never intended to be merely an American sect of religion. It is a new and the last dispensation of the Christian religion--the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times, the dispensation into which will be gathered all former dispensations of the Gospel of Christ; all keys of authority, all powers, all gifts, all graces essential to the welfare and salvation of man--all that is essential to the completion of the mission of the Christian religion.
But recently, some of our opponents have sought to frighten others by denying our belief in Christ, and attempting to link us to Eastern religions or dangerous "cults." This is a deceptive effort, made in genuinely bad faith. Unfortunately, it has affected many people, and has required a response from us. Of course we are Christians, we proclaim - and now these enemies say we are putting on a new face, when in fact we are wiping off the mud they insist on slinging at us.
Mormons weren't the only ones in those early days who recognized the obvious Christian nature of our religion. Here is a comment from a non-LDS visitor to Nauvoo, published in the Juliet Courier in 1841 (cited in Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Alma P. Burton [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977], pp. 8-9):
In the first place, I cannot help noticing the plain hospitality of the Prophet, Smith, to all strangers visiting the town, aided as he is, in making the stranger comfortable by his excellent wife, a woman of superior ability. The people of the town appear to be honest and industrious, engaged in their usual vocations of building up a town, and making all things around them comfortable. On Sunday I attended one of their meetings, in front of the Temple now building, and one of the largest buildings in the state. There could not have been less than 2,500 people present, and as well appearing as any number that could be found in this or any state. Mr. Smith preached in the morning, and one could have readily learned, then, the magic by which he has built up this society, because, as we say in Illinois, "they believe in him," and in his honesty. It has been a matter of astonishment to me, after seeing the Prophet, as he is called, Elder Rigdon, and many other gentlemanly men anyone may see at Nauvoo, who will visit there--why it is, that so many professing Christianity, and so many professing to reverence the sacred principles of our Constitution (which gives free religious toleration to all), have slandered, and persecuted this sect of Christians. (History of the Church 4:381.)
By the way, the Juliet Courier came from the city now known as Joliet, Illinois and was first published in 1839 (some historical information is provided by its modern descendant, the Herald News).
A letter from a Congressman who heard Joseph Smith preach saw no incongruity with Christianity. This is a letter from Mathew L. Davis, Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, 6th February, 1840 (Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, op. cit., pp. 11-14):
My Dear Mary:--I went last evening to hear "Joe Smith," the celebrated Mormon, expound his doctrine. I, with several others, had a desire to understand his tenets as explained by himself. He is not an educated man; but he is a plain, sensible, strong minded man. Everything he says, is said in a manner to leave an impression that he is sincere. There is no levity, no fanaticism, no want of dignity in his deportment. He is apparently from forty to forty-five years of age, rather above the middle stature, and what you ladies would call a very good looking man. In his garb there are no peculiarities; his dress being that of a plain, unpretending citizen. He is by profession a farmer, but is evidently well read.
He commenced by saying, that he knew the prejudices which were abroad in the world against him, but requested us to pay no respect to the rumors which were in circulation respecting him or his doctrines. He was accompanied by three or four of his followers. He said, "I will state to you our belief, so far as time will permit." "I believe," said he, "that there is a God, possessing all the attributes ascribed to him by all Christians of all denominations; that he reigns over all things in heaven and on earth, and that all are subject to his power." He then spoke rationally of the attributes of Divinity, such as foreknowledge, mercy &c., &c. He then took up the Bible. "I believe," said he, "in this sacred volume. In it the 'Mormon' faith is to be found. We teach nothing but what the Bible teaches. We believe nothing, but what is to be found in this book. I believe in the fall of man, as recorded in the Bible; I believe that God foreknew everything, but did not foreordain everything; I deny that foreordain and foreknow is the same thing. He foreordained the fall of man; but all merciful as he is, he foreordained at the same time, a plan of redemption of all mankind. I believe in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, and that He died for the sins of all men, who in Adam had fallen." He then entered into some details, the result of which tended to show his total unbelief of what is termed original sin. He believes that it is washed away by the blood of Christ, and that it no longer exists. As a necessary consequence, he believes that we are all born pure and undefiled. That all children dying at an early age (say eight years) not knowing good from evil, were incapable of sinning; and that all such assuredly go to heaven. "I believe," said he, "that a man is a moral, responsible, free agent; that although it was foreordained he should fall, and be redeemed, yet after the redemption it was not foreordained that he should again sin. In the Bible a rule of conduct is laid down for him; in the Old and New Testaments the law by which he is to be governed, may be found. If he violates that law, he is to be punished for the deeds done in the body.
"I believe that God is eternal. That He had no beginning, and can have no end. Eternity means that which is without beginning or end. I believe that the soul is eternal; and had no beginning; it can have no end." Here he entered into some explanations, which were so brief that I could not perfectly comprehend him. But the idea seemed to be that the soul of man, the spirit, had existed from eternity in the bosom of Divinity; and so far as he was intelligible to me, must ultimately return from whence it came. He said very little of rewards and punishments; but one conclusion, from what he did say, was irresistible--he contended throughout, that everything which had a beginning must have an ending; and consequently if the punishment of man commenced in the next world, it must, according to his logic and belief have an end.
During the whole of his address, and it occupied more than two hours, there was no opinion or belief that he expressed, that was calculated, in the slightest degree, to impair the morals of society, or in any manner to degrade and brutalize the human species. There was much in his precepts, if they were followed, that would soften the asperities of man towards man, and that would tend to make him a more rational being than he is generally found to be. There was no violence, no fury, no denunciation. His religion appears to be the religion of meekness, lowliness, and mild persuasion.
Towards the close of his address, he remarked that he had been represented as pretending to be a Savior, a worker of miracles, etc. All this was false. He made no such pretensions. He was but a man, he said; a plain, untutored man; seeking what he should do to be saved. He performed no miracles. He did not pretend to possess any such power. He closed by referring to the Mormon Bible, which he said, contained nothing inconsistent or conflicting with the Christian Bible, and he again repeated that all who would follow the precepts of the Bible, whether Mormon or not, would assuredly be saved.
Throughout his whole address, he displayed strongly a spirit of charity and forbearance. The Mormon Bible, he said, was communicated to him, direct from heaven. If there was such a thing on earth, as the author of it, then he (Smith) was the author; but the idea that he wished to impress was, that he had penned it as dictated by God.
I have taken some pains to explain this man's belief, as he himself explained it. I have done so because it might satisfy your curiosity, and might be interesting to you, and some of your friends. I have changed my opinion of the Mormons. They are an injured and much-abused people. Of matters of faith, you know I express no opinion. . . .
Affectionately your husband,
M. L. Davis.
P.S.--I omitted to say, he does not believe in infant baptism, sprinkling, but in immersion, after eight years of age.
To Mrs. Mathew L. Davis, 107 Henry Street, New York. (Joseph Smith, History of the Church [HC], 4:78-80.)
Those critics who complain today that we have recently started to emphasize the name Jesus Christ instead of "Mormon" are repeating a very old complaint. Thanks to Ted Jones for pointing out a statement from a Baptist missionary magazine published in 1912 that complained of the same thing:
Another element in the menace of Mormonism today is found in its missionary work. . . . Evidence is constantly being received from all parts of the country that these missionaries are more and more widely gaining access to our homes and our communities. The literature which they freely distribute is not recognized because it nowhere bears the word Mormon, and because it seems to preach the gospel which we are accustomed to hear. Furthermore, the imprint of The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints is not recognized as the official name of the Mormon Church.
(Mrs. Geo. W. Coleman, "The Menace of Mormonism," in Missions. A Baptist Monthly Magazine, Volume 3 (1912): 423-426. Published by the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society, Boston. Mrs. Coleman is listed as President, Council of Women for Home Missions.
Some critics say we are not Christian because we do not use the symbol of the cross as they do. One can disagree with us, but that does not cost us our status as Christians. In fact, if we are excluded from Christianity for this reason, then the early Christians would also be excluded. According to non-LDS scholars, "In the first three centuries A.D. the cross was not openly used as a Christian symbol, for the early believers looked beyond the Crucifixion to the Resurrection, and the emphasis was not on the cross of suffering and humiliation but on the Promise of Life with CHrist here in the world and hereafter in the life beyond the grave" (H. Child and D. Colles, Christian Symbols: Ancient and Modern, Bell and Sons, London, 1971, p. 10, as cited by Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints, Aspen Books, Salt Lake City, UT, 1992, p. 132). Latter-day Saints and early Christians seem to share the same view on this matter.
Even some modern Protestant writers make the same point. "The power of salvation, Paul says, is not in the cross, as fundamentalist evangelists have claimed, but in the resurrection" (L.J. Averill, Religious Right, Religious Wrong: A Critique of the Fundamentalist Phenomenon,, Pilgrim Books, New York, 1989, p. 88, as cited by Peterson and Ricks, p. 132).
Here's our perspective: we worship the Resurrected, Living Christ. We remember his death and sacrifice each week as we partake of communion, etc., but we prefer to picture him as the glorious, living Lord. The cross was an instrument of torture and somehow to me just doesn't seem like an appropriate primary way to remember him (though you may find not-too-gory paintings of him on the cross in some LDS buildings and certainly in LDS publications). To illustrate my problem with the popular use of the cross, if my wife were stabbed to death, I wouldn't put knives on my wall to remember her - I'd put pictures of her while she was alive. Thus, we don't prefer to wear the cross and you'll never find crosses as ornaments on our buildings. I appreciate the significance of the symbol in Catholic and Protestant worship and respect its use. As an example of how we prefer to picture him, see the images at Official LDS Web Site.
We also object to worship of graven images and feel uncomfortable with the way some people venerate the cross or statues of Christ or saints. That's not to say that it is wrong to have a statue or a picture, but they should not be objects of worship.
It seems that the loudest or most common voices denying our Christianity are found among Protestants, and particularly evangelical Protestants. Some such Protestants (hopefully a small minority) seem to believe that any beliefs other than theirs are outside the scope of Christianity. While we teach that there is but one true, restored Church of Jesus Christ on earth, we also teach that the many remnants of that original Church have much good on which we can build, and we insist that they are Christians, too, if they sincerely believe in Christ.
For my evangelical Protestant brothers and sisters, I wish to point out that there is much more to "historic Christianity" than the traditions you are familiar with. In fact, the assumption that "historic Christianity" and Protestant doctrine are synonymous is tenuous indeed. Here is a matter-of-fact reminder on this issue from Daniel C. Peterson, one of my favorite professors at BYU, quoted with permission from 1999 e-mail:
The fact is that evangelical Protestantism represents a faction, no more, of a minority faction, no more, of Christianity. That faction arose, relatively late, in northwestern Europe, and it is still basically dominant only among those of northwestern European extraction. It is distinctly a minority in Italy and Brazil and Mexico and Spain and France and Argentina, and it is virtually invisible in Greece and Romania and Russia and Armenia and the Ukraine, to say nothing of Syria, Turkey, Egypt, and Iraq.
Latter-day Saints do not claim that their faith-group is exhaustive of Christendom. We recognize that there are Catholic and Orthodox and other Christians. Some evangelical Protestants seem reluctant, however, to grant that the Copts or the Catholics are Christians at all. Some say so implicitly, and others have told me so explicitly, under direct questioning.
Latter-day Saints do, of course, claim that God has acted to restore the true fullness of Christianity, and that that fullness is embodied in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Such a claim can seem arrogant, and I, for one, would be very hesitant to make it -- indeed, I would refuse to make it -- were it not for the presupposition of direct revelation that undergirds it.
To assert, as some evangelicals have declared directly to me, that they alone are Christians, and that they have arrived at their unique Christianity by virtue of their own reading of the Bible -- implicitly dismissing the other claimants to Christianity as either preternaturally stupid or irrationally evil or some mixture of the two -- seems to me both arrogant and, in view of the fact that the preponderant majority of world "Christians" hold to different opinions, quite unlikely to be true. Even to claim that evangelical Protestants alone are "biblical" or "orthodox" Christians, seems an improbable and smug declaration.
That is the point. Ironically, Latter-day Saints rely, here, upon God's grace, where some of my evangelical interlocutors -- the ones that I have in mind -- seem quite evidently to trust in their own understanding.
I was there at that sermon. He was correcting a minor heresy in which some BYU students felt that their relationship to Christ was so advanced that they could pray directly to Him, not following the Biblical command to pray to the Father in the name of Christ (see Colossians 3:17). Elder McConkie was clarifying that "to us there is but one God" whom we worship (see 1 Cor. 8:6), "and one Lord, Jesus Christ," our advocate with the Father. He emphasized that Christ brings us to the Father and that the Father is the ultimate object of all true worship. He was not demoting Christ from the Godhead or urging us not to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, whom we follow and adore, but he was reminding us of the preeminence of the Father, and that we are to pray to Him in the name of Christ. Depending on just what you mean by the word "worship," it can be correct to say that we properly worship the Father in the name of Christ or that we properly worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
Elder McConkie's views on Christ are nicely conveyed in a very popular LDS hymn that he wrote. It's Hymn 134 in the LDS hymnbook and bears the title, "I Believe in Christ." Here are some verses:
I believe in Christ; he is my King!
With all my heart to him I'll sing;
I'll raise my voice in praise and joy,
In grand amens my tongue employ.
I believe in Christ - my Lord, my God!
My feet he plants on gospel sod,
I'll worship him with all my might;
He is the source of truth and light.
I believe in Christ; he ransoms me.
From Satan's grasp he sets me free,
And I shall live with joy and love
In his eternal courts above.
By the way, a lot of anti-Mormons seem to have never attended an LDS sacrament meeting and listened to the hymns we sing. If they did, they would immediately know that we are Christians. And they might even be inspired to join. After all, some of the most beautiful hymns you'll ever hear about Christ are sung in Latter-day Saint meetings. Give it a try!
Here's an excerpt from one message:
You only say that you consider yourself a Christian. I'm curious to know why. Objectively speaking, Christianity and Mormonism are different religions. Notice, please, that I am not saying which one is right. If you look at the fundamental beliefs of Christianity and Mormonism, they are quite different... To say that you are a Christian because you believe in Jesus Christ is fallacious. Even the demons believe in Jesus Christ.
You said "Objectively speaking, Christianity and Mormonism are different religions." EH?? What is this objective standard? Your statement requires the use of a very peculiar definition of Christian not supported by the dictionary or by the Bible. What people really mean, I have found, when they say that Mormons aren't Christian, is that Mormons don't believe exactly the same things that the accuser believes. There is no objective standard that says Christians must believe in the papacy or in the post-Biblical declarations of argumentative committees (Nicene Creed, for example) or in the writings of Martin Luther to be Christians. Christians are those who believe in and worship Jesus Christ, the Son of God. That's who I believe in AND worship. The demons believe/know and tremble - they do not follow or worship or seek to emulate Him.
So what is this so-called objective standard? If you look up the references to "Christian" in the Bible - all three - you'll find that if anything, it supports the LDS position more strongly than any other religion, for the Christians had prophets among them (Acts 11). Does your religion provide prophets among your people? No - but I'm not going to tell you that you are a liar and a hypocrite for claiming to be a Christian. You may not believe that God and Christ are separate beings as the Bible teaches (e.g., John 14:28, Acts 7:55,56; John 17), but I will not tell people that you are not a Christian for that. You may accept post-Biblical creeds from fallible mortals as authoritative, even when they contradict the Bible - but I'll still accept you as a Christian. You may not believe that we are in the physical image of God as the Bible teaches (Gen. 1:26,27 + Gen. 5:1-3, among others), but I'll still accept you as a Christian.
From my perspective, it is rather insolent to go around telling others what they believe instead of asking them what they believe, and telling them that they aren't Christians when they are. If you must continue in this path of excluding others as Christians who don't believe exactly the way you do, may I suggest you purchase the fabulous CultMaster 200 CD software to help in this formidable task? It's available at http://www.jefflindsay.com/CultMaster.shtml. And for you, it's only half price if you act fast!
Here's an example of what is sadly very typical, sent to me by someone describing himself as a born-again Christian (received Feb. 22, 2000):
I have been studying Mormonism for approximately eight years. The reason that I am emailing you is that you claim to be a Christian. Now, just because one calls themselves a Christian doesn't qualify them anymore than somebody going into a garage makes them a car! For example, the Mormon Jesus Christ is a created being; the spirit brother of Lucifer (Pearl of Great Price); the Biblical Jesus Christ is an untreated God! The Mormon Christ earned his own salvation (exaltation); the Biblical Christ as God, required no salvation; and finally, the Mormon Christ was conceived by the physical sex act of the Father (Adam or Elohim). No, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit who overshadowed Mary, a true virgin. As a Christian, this last doctrine truly offends me ( Judea 3: "Defend the faith that was once delivered unto the saints"). Yes Mr. Lindsay, Mormonism is a cult! A theological cult, as opposed to a sociological cult, e.g., Jones town; Heaven's Gate; etc. The bottom line is this: I am not anti Mormon, I love Mormons! I am, however, anti Mormon theology and anti Mormon doctrine which contradicts biblical Christianity.
Have you ever had someone come up to you and say you're not a Christian because the Protestant Jesus is an immaterial spirit essence but the real Jesus of the Bible is a physically resurrected being whose body can be touched, as described in Luke 24? Or because the Jesus of the Bible is the begotten Son of God, whose Father is greater than Him (John 14:28), in contrast to the Jesus of the Protestants who is the same Being as the Father? Or because the Jesus of the Bible said we must keep the commandments of God to be saved and endure to the end (Matt. 19, Matt. 24, Luke 10, etc.), while (so this rude, hypothetical person might say) the false Jesus of the Protestants teaches another Gospel of justification by faith alone without obedience? If I were Protestant and someone did that to me, calling me a cultist or non-Christian over doctrinal differences, I'd be deeply offended. Differences in interpretation of the scriptures does not mean that Protestants somehow worship a different Jesus and aren't Christian. And wouldn't you see past their claims to love Protestants if they actually went around insulting their beliefs and misrepresenting their faith? I sure would.
The words you try to put in my mouth are most offensive, even nasty. True LDS doctrine says nothing about the sex stuff you claim I accept - the scriptures say Mary was a virgin, and that is what I believe. (Just what have you been studying for these 8 years? May I suggest you examine the LDS scriptures and General Conference reports to get a better feel for real LDS doctrine.) What you say we believe is not genuine LDS doctrine, but is a perversion of anti-Mormons who love to offend others on our behalf. Such portrayal of our beliefs is most unchristian. Have you ever had someone explain to you that you are a pagan because you practice cannibalism - referring to the communion? Others can describe that sacred ritual in the most offensive terms if they want to - but such is most unfair, as is your depiction of my beliefs. (Some Muslims, for example, really have a problem with Christian beliefs once they've had it presented to them as ritual cannibalism.)
I hope you'll be more open-minded in the future. And I hope you'll understand that you are excluding people as Christians on the basis of a very dangerous definition: "Christians are only those who accept my interpretation of the Bible." Ironically, the Bible does not support you in your exclusionary use of the term Christian. As that word us used in the Bible (only 3 times, if you will look it up), Latter-day Saints fit perfectly well. Christians are those who believe in Jesus Christ, and, as we read in Acts, have prophets among them (Acts 11:26-30 - the first occurrence of the word "Christian" in the Bible). Further, Christians are portrayed as being evil by others (1 Pet. 4:12-16) - something which your letter confirms is the case. These type of misrepresentations of our faith have contributed to persecutions in many forms, including the murder of Joseph Smith and many other Mormons by mobs, often led and inspired by ministers pretending to defend Christianity.
Say, if I can show you 50 ways in which your theology contradicts the Christianity of the Bible, would you agree that you are not a Christian and, in fact, part of a theological cult? And if I could find some shocking ways of misrepresenting your faith as something ugly and Satanic, would you buckle then? Of course not! That would be a silly exercise in tearing down another faith - but it's what anti-Mormonism is all about. Frankly, exclusionary games can cut both ways - but Latter-day Saints aren't in the business of telling others what they believe and ruling them out as cultists or non-Christians because of differences in theology. If someone claims to believe in Jesus, who are we to deny that, even if they've got some basics wrong? We invite all people to come unto Christ and learn the restored truths of His Gospel. We do not ask anyone to abandon any part of their faith that is correct, but to add the great blessings of the restored priesthood and Church to their lives.
The restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is true! Be careful in how you judge it. Seek to understand before you yield to the cunning craftiness of men who paint good as evil.
Excommunication of Arius was not the same as denying his belief in Christ. He is routinely accepted as Christian in spite of losing the philosophical battle at Nicea. The noted Protestant scholar, F.F. Bruce, for example, in New Testament History (1972), pp. 302-304, 321-322, 325, accepts Arius as Christian. I can give a variety of additional references to the same affect, and am aware of no serious Bible scholar who will dispute that Arius was not a Christian. Can you provide a credible reference to this effect? You may recall that at the Nicene council, the Quartodecimans were also excommunicated - for holding a minority view on the proper date of Easter. Does that make them non-Christian? The issue for them and Arius was not whether they were Christian or not, but ORTHODOX or not. I am not Orthodox. Granted. But I believe in Christ, and also believe that my understanding of His nature as a corporeal, glorified being who was been seen standing on the right hand of the Father (Acts 7:55,56), who said His Father was greater than He (John 14:28), and who told Mary to touch Him not for He had not yet ascended to His Father, is compatible with the earliest established doctrines of Christianity.
Arius actually continued to find support from many bishops in the Church after Nicea - even a majority of Eastern bishops- until the Council at Constantinople in AD 381, where it was largely buried, but Arianism was still routinely referred to as "Christian."
There is simply no substance to the argument that an Arian view makes one non-Christian.
More recent e-mail in 2001 made this statement:
Arius held to a view of Christ and the trinity almost identically as the LDS church and thus the Council of Nicea took place to decide what it meant to be a Christian. Arius lost. Now, 1500 years later the LDS church wants to take up his cause. Well, ok, but the definition of a Christian must change then.
I must disagree! Arius was NEVER on trial for not being Christian, and even after he lost, there was never a question as to whether he and his supporters were Christians. They were excommunicated for differing over a doctrine, but have universally been recognized as Christians. The Arian controversy had nothing to do with the definition of Christian, but with a deep philosophical debate about God's nature.
Doesn't it bother you that a key aspect of "normative" Christianity doesn't find itself at home in the world of Christ, Peter, and Paul, but evolves among the debates of men centuries later? I would say that we're not taking up the cause of Arius in 300 AD - we're returning to what Christ taught about Himself and the Father. They were separate beings. The Son was the Son of a Father, in whose image we and Christ are. Greek philosophy couldn't abide that, and the unity of the Godhead become distorted into a Being of one substance somehow having three persons in a way that none of the Apostles would ever have imagined.
Of course we worship Christ! Where did you get that idea? And since Christ is the foundation on which the Church is built, according to both the Book of Mormon and the Bible, of course we name His Church after His name. And so He commands. Say, based on your question, I bet you haven't got your free copy of the Book of Mormon - would you like one? It would resolve many of these issues about our views on Christ. (Call 1-877-537-0003 to receive a free Book of Mormon or order a free copy at Mormon.org.)
That's a short version of the longer answer I gave to the following e-mail from 2001, for which additional parts of my longer original answer follow:
[He first argued that references to "God and Jesus Christ" by Paul and others do not require that God and Jesus are two beings.] The clincher, for me, in answering the intent of Paul is the worship ascribed to Jesus throughout the New Testament. Philippians 2:5-11 are probably the earliest words ever penned by Christians and they are blatantly worshipful toward Jesus. The song is about Jesus. It's about bending the knee to him. It speaks about his deity. I cannot imagine a Mormon today writing a hymn like this to Jesus today. Why would they? He is their brother.
It seems very difficult to get around the fact that the earliest Christians ascribed worship to Jesus. If that was the case, it seems reasonable to think that Paul was putting "God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" on the same level. He was wishing peace to his audience from God.... What seems clear is that Paul is wishing peace and grace from not two but from ONE God whose name is (or who could be described as) "God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."...
Finally, switching gears a bit, why call yourselves the church of Jesus Christ when, in fact, you are the church of "heavenly Father." In other words, you don't ascribe worship to Jesus (like you do to 'heavenly father'), it seems misleading frankly. It SEEMS like you worship Jesus like Christians in there. but, you explicitly do not worship your brother Jesus (which is but one aspect of his relationship to us per Heb 2).
Thank you for the note! My goodness, Phil. 2:5-11 sounds perfectly LDS, and similar words are actually used in the LDS temple, expressing our worshipful reverence of the Savior, Jesus Christ- and yet the glory is to the Father. We worship Christ - to the glory of the Father. He came down and followed the path that brought Him fully back to the Father, seeking the glory that the Father gave Him. A separate Being that represents the Father and has become glorified and perfected like the Father, whose glory magnifies that of the Father - so strongly LDS in flavor! And the command to "let this mind be in you," calling us to also follow Christ, is another LDS touch (so willfully misunderstood by some critics).
I'm disappointed that you thought something like Phil. 2 would not be found in an LDS writing or hymn. I'm especially pained that you have somehow been taught that we do not truly revere Christ but see him "as only a brother." That pains me about as much as it ought to pain you if I said that you don't really worship God, since to you he's only a "father" - just another family member.
Christ IS technically our brother in the Spirit world - and is even called the firstborn among many brethren in the Bible (Rom. 8:29, see also Heb. 2:9-12, which you mentioned). Jesus was the greatest of all the spirits and was the Chosen and the Firstborn of God, having special honor and glory from God "before the world was" (John 17:5). The idea that Jesus was the Firstborn - and not the only offspring of God (Acts 17:28,29) is offensive to some, for it seems to imply that He was created by the Father or is consistent with the notion that we are, as LDS doctrine maintains, His brethren and sisters in a sense. However, the scriptures clearly indicate that Christ was the Firstborn (see Psalms 89:27; Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:5,6; Rev. 3:14 and Heb. 12:23).
But He is much more than "just a brother" - we are infinitely indebted to Him, the Father and Author of our salvation, our Creator under direction of the Father, our Redeemer, Savior, and King, to whom every knee will bow in humble reverence. Of course we worship Him! Where did you hear we did not? That is troubling!
As for our hymns and expressions of worship for Christ, please read through an LDS hymnbook and see what kind of hymns we sing - you'll be relieved to see that we have the attitudes expressed in Phil. 2:5-11. Try these hymns: 111 (Rock of Ages, esp. verse 2), 197 (O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown), 196 (Jesus Once of Humble Birth), 195 (How Great the Wisdom and the Love), 193 (I Stand All Amazed), 189 (O Thou, Before the World Began), 187 (God Loves Us, So He Sent His Son), 181 (Jesus of Nazareth, Savior and King), 182 (We'll Sing All Hail to Jesus' Name), 86 (How Great Thou Art), 59 (Come, O Thou King of Kings) - and many, many more that testify that Christ is God, King, Lord, Savior, Redeemer, Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, etc.
Here is an example of a question or challenge on this issue, received in 2001:
The beliefs that you profess are not commonly considered "Christian".... Let us not care who's theology is correct, if in fact either one is. My thought is, simply, that people have ideas that they instinctively associate with the word "Christian" that members of the LDS church do not. A few examples would be their version of the trinity, works not being necessary for salvation, and not being able to achieve Godhood because of the uniqueness of their God. If that is the case, then isn't presenting yourself as a "Christian" to someone who is uninformed of LDS beliefs deceptive? That thought occurred to me a couple months ago and it hasn't gone away.
Now let us assume that LDS theology is correct, does that give the Church the right to use the word "Christian" in such a fashion that does not make the casual observer aware of the different theologies taught by it versus any other "Christian" church? If simple belief in Jesus Christ is all that is needed to be "Christian" then one could rationalize groups such as the Church of Scientology or the Hailbop Comet Cult or even the Islamic faith as "Christian".
Please understand that I am only concerned with allowing truthful communication between members and non-members of the Church to occur. Honestly, I think that the LDS church as a whole needs to stop trying to apply the term "Christian" to itself and invent a new one, just for the sake of honest communication.
Honest communication? Our critics are anxious to scare people from investigating the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by deceptively making them think that we don't believe in Christ or in the Bible, that we are some kind of fringe cult to be opposed at all costs. Deceptively, they often won't even use our correct name, relying primarily on the nickname "Mormons." They deceptively fail to disclose that we look to Christ for salvation, that we believe the witness of the Bible about Christ as the Son of God and Redeemer of our souls. And people who have heard those sermons or read such literature typically express SURPRISE when they talk to real Latter-day Saints and find out that we actually do believe in Jesus and revere Him as the Son of God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, our Lord and God. So many times we hear this: "Oh, we had been taught that you weren't Christian." When they hear what we really believe, most people will instantly recognize that members of the Church of Jesus Christ who are baptized in His name and seek to follow Him and revere Him as the only source of grace and salvation must be Christian, regardless of other doctrinal differences. They know what Christian means: someone who seeks to follow Jesus Christ. So who is deceiving whom in talking about whether we are Christians or not?
Pointing to specific doctrinal differences is a poor way to decide who is Christian, for there are hundreds of Christian churches and movements that have differed over almost every doctrinal issue you can imagine over the centuries. Between and within the numerous Christian churches of our day, debates still continue on many theological issues, such as how one is saved, whether baptism is needed, what resurrection means, what the nature of God and Christ are, whether the Bible is inerrant or not, what sacraments are needed, what hell is, whether we are predestined or not, whether works are essential for salvation, etc., etc. But people recognize that those with other views can still accept Christ and look to Him for salvation - after all, they are Christians. Our critics deliberately deceive people by saying we aren't Christian, misleading people into thinking that we don't believe in Jesus, don't believe in the Bible, and are something to be feared.
Must we really require that people adhere only to the theological views that you find "acceptable" to be called Christian? The unity of doctrine that you imply is to be found among real Christians simply isn't there!
There is no doubt that we differ on several doctrinal issues from mainstream Protestants and Catholics, just as they differ from each other. But to say that one group is not Christian just because of differences in doctrine is unfounded, if the accused group truly believes in Christ as the source of salvation. You would insult the Muslims to call them Christian: they accept Him as a historical figure, but NOT as the Son of God, the promised Messiah, who alone is the source of our salvation through His Atonement. Scientologists and other fringe groups that don't teach this usually have no interest in being called Christian. But what gives others the right to exclude the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as Christians, in a way that promotes misunderstanding of our core beliefs which are entirely focused on Christ as our Savior? The attempt to redefine Christian to exclude us is an utter insult to fairness and to intelligence, for it inevitably would exclude the earliest Christians as well or would exclude other groups that are unmistakably Christian.
Your personal definition requires acceptance of the Trinity doctrine, as formulated by human councils centuries after Christ. Is there any evidence that Peter, James, and John taught the "sophisticated" and deeply philosophical doctrine of "one substance" without body, parts, and passions, with three persons somehow contained within one being? And when these formulations were presented for vigorous debate in the councils of the fourth and fifth centuries, the groups that held to older, less fashionable ideas (Arius and his followers, for example) were excommunicated BUT NEVER CALLED NON-CHRISTIANS. They were unmistakable Christians but were condemned for adhering to a minority position (by then) that had become labeled as a heresy. They differed in doctrinal understanding, not in their acceptance of Christ - just as Protestants and Catholics excommunicated and condemned each other in the theological battles of the Reformation.
Must adhere to theologically popular doctrines to be counted as a Christian? Since when does the majority determine what is truth? It wasn't true in Christ's day, and I'd be surprised if it applies now. For example, the majority of churches in our day does not believe that we are created in the physical image of God, as the Bible plainly teaches (Gen. 1:26,27; Gen. 5:1-3; James 3:9; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:1-3; Phil 3:19-21), but instead adheres to a formulation that came centuries after the Bible. We differ in this regard, but we would be ridiculously harsh to condemn the mainstream groups as being unchristian just because they don't believe the way we think they should, even if we can demonstrate that their beliefs on that issue derived from popular Neoplatonic doctrines of men and not from the pure revelations of God to man. Even though we are convinced they are wrong in some of their doctrines, if they sincerely believe in Christ and look to Him for salvation, we accept them as Christians - it's the only logical approach, the only approach consistent with any reasonable definition of Christian, the only fair approach - and the only Christian approach. It's a shame we don't receive the same civil courtesy.
Questions about the Oneness of God - dealing mostly with inquiries about the Trinity, "plurality of gods," how God can be One if Christ and the Father are distinct Beings, etc.
Mormonism and Early Christianity - a site offering many essays showing that LDS theology is much closer to early Christianity than the mainstream Christianity of the day.
"Comparing LDS Beliefs with First-Century Christianity" - an article by Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks published in the March 1988 Ensign.
Latter-day Saint Christianity: Ten Basic Issues - an excellent online booklet that deals with some common questions and controversies about Latter-day Saint beliefs.
Does the New Testament Define "Christianity"? - an excerpt from Offenders for a Word by Daniel C Peterson & Stephen D. Ricks.
Are Mormons Christians? - Stephen Robinson's article at the official LDS site.