Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Different "LDS" Jesus?

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, it is difficult for me to understand the charge made by other Christian denominations that Mormons are not Christian or that we believe in a different Jesus. It may seem ridiculous to the LDS, but as I learned in a recent meeting with local ministers, this belief is strong and widespread among many denominations. As LDS we cannot simply disregard the argument because we think it has no merit. If we desire and labor to change hearts and minds, we must understand the perspective of our non-LDS friends so we are able to speak to them in a language they understand.

It is suggested by “orthodox Christianity” that Mormons must believe in a different Jesus because in their view the LDS understanding of Christ and his mission is radically different from their own. So how is the LDS Jesus radically different from that of other Christians?

I had a Baptist preacher bear a powerful testimony of Christ to me and this is what he said. I am paraphrasing but these are the points he made…

Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God
He sits on the right hand of God and possesses every divine attribute
He is the creator, the Jehova of the Old Testament
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
Jesus was born to a virgin, lived a perfect life, never once sinning,
He taught the gospel of His Father, He worked miracles
He died on the cross, sacrificing His life that we all may live and have eternal life
It is only through His grace that we can be saved
We must have faith in Him and accept Him as our Savior and Redeemer
He will return

He was surprised when my friend and I told him that everything he stated in his testimony is EXACTLY what we believe. I have no hesitation in echoing every bit of the testimony he bore.

If we share this testimony in Christ, what are the radical differences that are too monumental to overcome in accepting one another as Christians? Are there doctrinal differences between the LDS church and Baptists, or Methodists? Of course, there are many, but there are also many things that unite us.

It has been suggested by some in the LDS community that the theory of “another Jesus” has been promulgated as a way to exclude the LDS from acceptance among other Christian religions. For example, if a Christian holds the belief that an individual only needs to accept Christ to be saved, what of the LDS church member who also accepts Christ? Would the LDS be saved, just as the Baptist or Methodist? In this example, an LDS professing to accept Christ would be saved just as any other, unless, the Jesus Christ the LDS accepted was a different Jesus. If the LDS placed their faith in another, false Jesus, then accepting him would not benefit the LDS unto salvation.

It is possible that this represents the thinking of some of our non-LDS friends, but I think most truly believe there are major differences in doctrine that preclude the LDS from being included as Christians. In fact there are many so called orthodox Christians who would exclude many other denominations. I have read accounts of Methodists not accepting Catholics, Southern Baptists not accepting Baptists or Presbyterians as Christians, and so forth.

This is simply a form of exclusion by definition. If an individual or group controls the definition of what it means to be Christian, the only people to be accepted as Christians are those that meet their definition. If being a Christian requires an individual to believe as the Catholics, with no variance, by definition the only Christians will be Catholic. Or if a group decides that to be Christian, one must accept the Apostolic Creeds, anyone who does not accept the creeds cannot be Christian.

Some of the major differences, real or perceived, between the orthodox Christian and the LDS Christian include the following.

-The LDS accept continued revelation and scripture while orthodoxy does not allow for an open cannon of scripture. According to the orthodox, if it is not written in the Bible it is not scripture(an exception seems to be made for the creeds-although they are not stated as scripture)

-The LDS do not accept the Nicene Creed and other Apostolic Creeds which other “orthodox” Christians accept (Although there is not consensus among all denominations about which creeds must be accepted)

-LDS do not accept the notion of the Trinity- the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit, all being one entity, without body parts or passions. LDS believe the Godhead to be 3 distinct personages, but all divine and one in every other way. The LDS believe in God the Father, His son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.

-To varying levels, orthodox Christians do not accept the notion of a pre-mortal life, that we as children lived with our Father prior to this earth life. It is also in dispute among the orthodox, whether we are actual "children" of God, or merely made, like a tin soldier or a painting.

-Orthodoxy disagrees with the LDS view of eternal progression, 3 degrees of glory & eternal families

-Orthodox Christians believe the atonement involved Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. The LDS believe this as well, but also believe Christ’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and His resurrection to be critical components of the atonement.

-The LDS do not use the cross as the symbol of their religion like most orthodox. Although the LDS accept and recognize the Saviors atonement and death on the cross, the LDS prefer to focus on the ressurected Christ as the symbol, focusing on life we gain through Christ, instead of the image of His death.

-Orthodoxy believes it is only through faith on Christ that one can be saved. The LDS also believes this, however the LDS also believe that an individual expresses faith through actions. Other denominations share this view to different levels, whether they require a vocal acceptance of the Savior, or baptism, repentance, confession, keeping the 10 commandments etc. The LDS believe that although obedience and righteousness do not “earn” salvation, obedience and righteousness express faith in Christ and His redeeming sacrifice. This is the classic argument of Faith vs. works.

I am painting with a broad brush, but I believe most orthodox Christians would cite these same differences as reasons why the LDS are not Christians despite the LDS profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Of course there will be differences across denominations, as well as among individual members of each denomination. We can see there are obvious differences in doctrine but there are also many doctrinal truths, which unite us as believers in Christ.

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints we do not apologize for our doctrine or differences with other Christian sects. Our doctrine will not change because we want to be accepted by others. We understand we may not be accepted by orthodox Christianity, but we do no want to be misunderstood or misrepresented as non-Christian.

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