Are Mormons Christians?

I’ve seen this tweet blow up in my feed the past couple of days:

You have the typical replies. “We’re not Mormons! We’re members of TCoJCoLDS!”

And of course the old, “Jesus is in the name of the church” canard.

And my favorite, the “we didn’t want to be Christians anyway” response.

Most of the conversation, however, misses what is actually at stake for Christians, theologically. I tweeted a thread to engage the conversation. I’ve included the full text below:

Full disclosure: I’m a post-Mormon Christian minister. I believe that Mormons are sociologically Christian, in that they emerge from 19th century radical Protestant restorationism, and that many Mormons are Christians in the important sense that their faith in Jesus leads to lives of service.

That is nothing to shake a stick at, and is, at the end of the day, arguably the most important way to be Christian. And besides, we’re saved by grace, not having the right theology.

Having said that, Mormonism falls outside the bounds of the religion that historically has been and is now called Christianity. Mormons tend to misunderstand this because for the most part they are not familiar with the ways Christianity functions and understands itself.

For us, an important part of being a Christian is being a part of the church–the global Body of Christ. The church is bigger than any single denomination. It represents all denominations across time and space. Mormons tend to refer to different denominations as different “religions.” But in fact, a denomination is not its own religion; a denomination is a particular expression of *one* religion–Christianity.

Christian churches recognize this about one another. We often take care to refer to our denominations as “a” church or “this” church. We don’t want to conflate our own particular expression of the faith with “THE” church, which we understand as the Body of Christ writ large.

This is why Christians recognize one another’s baptism. In Christian baptism, we are NOT baptized into a particular congregation or denomination. That’s important, so re-read that a few times if you need to.

Instead, we are baptized into the life of the Triune God, which is a particular theology of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as distinct, co-equal persons in One God, who transcends all creation, and who can in no wise be called the same “species” as humanity. There can be many theological disagreements among Christian churches on many important matters, but this is seen as non-negotiable to a church’s fundamental Christianity–because baptism is the sacrament of entrance to the Christian faith.

The early church fathers went so far as to say that even if a person’s or minister’s theology of God was wrong, if they *intended* for baptism to accomplish the same things, it was an acceptable Christian baptism.

However, Mormon baptism neither accomplishes nor intends to accomplish the same things as Christian baptism–by design! In Mormonism, one is baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints *in particular.* In fact, this is such a significant point of emphasis for Mormons that they require RE-baptism of any Christian converts to Mormonism. This is unthinkable in Christian practice.

Further, Mormons do not believe that baptism folds believers into the life of the Triune God–because Mormons reject the doctrine of the Trinity. Our conceptions of God are so different as to be, as one Catholic scholar says, operating on an “entirely different matrix.”

When Christians say that Mormons are not Christians, this is what they mean. This is what is functioning, both theologically and in practice, behind that assertion. And it’s true! Mormons do not fall within the fellowship of global Christianity as a matter of their own theology and practice. They don’t accept the baptism of other Christians; they don’t baptize into the Triune God.

This is what divides us. It’s not the expanded canon (Community of Christ, which sees the Book of Mormon and their version of the Doctrine and Covenants as scripture, is recognized as a Christian church); it’s not the question of grace and works (Christians are all over the map); it’s not authority (Catholics, Orthodox, and Anglicans with sacerdotal concepts of priesthood and ordination accept Protestant baptism).

It’s the profoundly different understanding of God and church that puts Mormonism outside Christianity (again, theologically, not sociologically), and nowhere is that clearer than in the case of baptism.

This doesn’t mean Mormons are going to hell, that they can’t have vital relationships with God, that their faith in Jesus is wrong. It *does* means that Mormonism has evolved into a distinct religion from historic, orthodox Christianity. I encourage Mormons to embrace that!

Or, if you feel troubled about your church’s departure from the global body of Christ, perhaps God is calling you to explore the textures and expressions of the Christian faith. In either case, it’s good to understand the nuances of this conversation and what’s at stake.

3 thoughts on “Are Mormons Christians?

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  1. Hi Katie. You’ve explained your points clearly and I think it does help people to understand these aspects. I think it’s wise to go through these sort of disagreements point-by-point and clearly set out the facts as each party understands them, rather than becoming indignant. Which is easy to become, I guess, when it’s about one’s fundamental beliefs.
    I have a few comments/questions here:
    Is it the case that most ‘other’ Christian churches see themselves as part of a global body of Christ – essentially one Church, with many denominations (that’s how I’ve understood what you explained, so I might have gotten that wrong), and therefore don’t baptise into their own church/denomination, but into the global body – a general following of Christ, not a specific following of a discrete church – because all of those churches come from one original, the Roman Catholic church? And that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t see it in the same way because it claims its authority from the original-original : ) church established by Christ under His Apostles? So that Latter-day Saints see themselves as linked with other Christian churches through their belief in Christ and His salvation, etc., but not through tradition, like most of the rest of the Christian world. (But do see the connection between the Protestant movements and the environment made possible by them for other options besides the traditional Catholic and are grateful for it).
    I guess linked with that is that re-baptism being ‘unthinkable in Christian practice’, but that John’s disciples who later followed Christ were re-baptised, even though John’s baptism had authority.
    The doctrines of the Godhead and the Triune are very different, but I don’t see that it makes their different followers either Christian or un-Christian. It makes the Catholic and Protestant denominations following one doctrine and the Latter-day Saints another; so that what Latter-day Saints are not is Catholic or Protestant, not un-Christian. It is a fundamental/defining part of what someone believes, and it affects how they see their salvation occurring, their relationship to God, and how God does His work; it affects interpretation of scriptures; but however fundamental, it still doesn’t define a Christian or un-Christian theology, to my mind. It sets one church apart from many others, so those churches might consider them un-orthodox.
    You’re right that it is distinct (although it always has been, rather than becoming that way) from mainstream Christianity, and in that sense not a denomination, because it’s not a denomination of Catholicism, which in that sense Protestant churches would be, at least to some extent. But it’s not distinct in being non-Christian – just not the kind of Christian that that mainstream body is (which contains a lot of side-stream denominations, too).

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    1. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. To respond…

      You said: “Is it the case that most ‘other’ Christian churches see themselves as part of a global body of Christ – essentially one Church, with many denominations (that’s how I’ve understood what you explained, so I might have gotten that wrong), and therefore don’t baptise into their own church/denomination, but into the global body – a general following of Christ, not a specific following of a discrete church – because all of those churches come from one original, the Roman Catholic church?”

      No, that is not the theology of the church in Christianity. We do not see ourselves a derivatives of Roman Catholicism, but faithful expressions of the universal, apostolic faith. While it is a historical reality that the church in the west emerges, in large part, from the Roman Catholic church, it is not because of Rome that we recognize one another’s baptism, but because we share a belief in the Triune God. Your formulation also completely ignores the Eastern Orthodox tradition, which is not Protestant, and is as ancient as the Roman Catholics. We all still accept one another’s baptism.

      You said: And that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t see it in the same way because it claims its authority from the original-original : ) church established by Christ under His Apostles? So that Latter-day Saints see themselves as linked with other Christian churches through their belief in Christ and His salvation, etc., but not through tradition, like most of the rest of the Christian world.

      Historically speaking, Jesus didn’t establish a church. Jesus was a Jew. The church emerged after his death, first as a sect of Judaism, and later as its own religious movement. Therefore, we reject the premise of Mormon authority. Christians don’t see ourselves as linked just through tradition–though tradition is important–but through a shared faith, again, in the Triune God.

      You said: I guess linked with that is that re-baptism being ‘unthinkable in Christian practice’, but that John’s disciples who later followed Christ were re-baptised, even though John’s baptism had authority.

      That’s just the point, the claim that incident in Acts is making is precisely that John’s baptism didn’t have authority, and thus needed to be readministered in the name of Jesus. It wasn’t a re-baptism, but a first Christian baptism, making clear the distinction between Christian and non-Christian baptism.

      You said: The doctrines of the Godhead and the Triune are very different, but I don’t see that it makes their different followers either Christian or un-Christian. It makes the Catholic and Protestant denominations following one doctrine and the Latter-day Saints another; so that what Latter-day Saints are not is Catholic or Protestant, not un-Christian.

      This is why I’m careful to make a distinction between Mormonism as a sociologically Christian tradition–it emerges from 19th century radical Restorationism, which is a movement within Christianity–and what is mutually agreed upon as acceptably orthodox Christianity by the global church. Mormonism is Christian in the sense that it comes from a Christian milieu; it has evolved, however, into a distinct religion that is well beyond the bounds of acceptable Christian orthodoxy because of its rejection of the Trinity, making it non-Christian theologically.

      I hope this helps. Peace to you!

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  2. Your description of the multiple Christian denominations is a bit different to what I’ve heard otherwise/studied at Uni, etc. It’s a much more connected view than I’d realised. So does everyone share that? Or am I mistaking what you call “faithful expressions of the universal, apostolic faith” for agreement that you each see each other as legitimate alternatives within that faith? Or is that what each of the separate traditions does believe? I also didn’t know that it was the concept of a Triune God that makes you accept each other in that way. I thought that central link was the shared tradition/history/origin. It’s good to understand better.

    You said Jesus didn’t establish a church, but it emerged after His death, which is correct, but also not completely – He ordained apostles and seventies and sent them to preach the gospel; we also have partial records only of His 40-day ministry after the Resurrection, but those who study that period believe that this is the time when He instructed the apostles and other disciples about forming a church, the ordinances beyond baptism and the Holy Ghost that were needed, etc. In this way, He did establish a church – which you’d kind of hope, because you don’t want it to be something created by people only.
    Also, when I mentioned the “original-original church”, that’s not where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claim its authority from – but considers itself to be the same organisation, with the same beliefs and practices and authority. That being the authority of Jesus Christ directly, who restored that same church – His – through revelation, giving His authority again to it. Which is why, as you mention in the article, it’s a ‘restorationist’ church. The things that link it with that ‘original’ body are evidence for its claims/legitimacy/veracity, but not the origin of its authority. And of course, we don’t even see that iteration of Christ’s church as the true original, either – that having been established with Adam and Eve. And each iteration being a restoration, and presiding over each dispensation of the gospel being on earth.

    I was actually thinking of an earlier moment than Acts about John’s disciples being re-baptised, and am trying to find it again… I see your point about doing it for legitimacy – but that can’t be the whole reason, because John was qualified to baptise, or Jesus wouldn’t have been baptised by him. John had the Aaronic priesthood, which had been given at the time of Moses, and was still a legitimate authorisation for the lower ordinances available to the Israelites from that time. And Christ (as Jehovah) was the centre of those laws, so being baptised of John was baptism in Christ. But at the same time, the symbolism of becoming a follower of Christ in the sense of the renewed understanding and expanded covenant (or ‘testament’, as the KJV puts it) perhaps required or offered an opportunity to commit to that fuller sense of being His disciple. So I don’t think it was due to illegitimacy that they were re-baptised, but as a symbol of following specifically Christ, not John. So re-baptism in this view wasn’t a terrible thing, but an opportunity and renewed declaration of discipleship.
    However, your explanation of the need for a re-baptism due to illegitimacy might be more applicable in a modern sense, where we consider that it needs to be administered under the proper authority. So that if someone is baptised in one denomination and then chooses to follow another, that’s fine in the Protestant and Catholic world (if I understand what you’ve explained correctly) and doesn’t require a renewal of the ordinance. But if they choose to follow The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is required, because we don’t consider other churches to have the legitimate authority for that ordinance, or others, because of the Great Apostasy and loss of priesthood authority until the restoration of that Church. So from our point of view, it is necessary for those reasons. And I can see why those in other Christian denominations wouldn’t like that, if you all accept each others’ baptism. In that sense (and many others!) we’re the only ones who stand out from the crowd. But what about Baptists? Are they included in the common baptismal acceptance, seeing as they perform it quite differently?

    For the last point, this is an article I read today, written a few years ago, which looks at the idea of orthodoxy and not, and how Latter-day Saints fit into that. (Because orthodoxy as other denominations see it has also changed, of course; at certain points in the past, what’s now unacceptable was, and vice-versa. So one party’s conception of it and another’s can undersandably and easily be very different, but no less legitimate or Christian – just not the same as what the consensus has decided is currently legitimate. That’s a very unfair way to decide who to call “Christian” and not). The article points out that certain Latter-day Saint doctrines which were unthinkable to other denominations when they were presented were over time accepted by them and incorporated into their ‘orthodoxy’. So I think it’s good to see that as much more fluid than many would present it, and therefore not to exclude the Latter-day Saints from the accepted designation of ‘Christian’ because of orthodoxy challenges, but to take it from what you call the sociological sense. Anyway, it’s an interesting article: https://www.firstthings.com/article/2016/06/mormons-at-the-forefront?fbclid=IwAR3ZKoyuef5lmvYQ-CmWFaDDGtPjHaLhYSVX1PNxs5pH2niCzikGkcG-0DA

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