Apologist v. Apologist: Are Mormons Christian?
In 2012 I published a book called, “A Biblical Defense of Mormonism”. Four years later I embraced Evangelical Christianity. So what enticed me, a Mormon apologist, to abandon my faith in the LDS church? This article is part of a recurring series, where I explain why, by refuting my past self.
“Are you saying we’re not Christian?”
It’s the most awkward part of discussing theology with Latter-day Saints. This loaded question leaves many Evangelicals speechless. We can’t say no because of their reaction. In their eyes, they are so obviously Christian, that any assertion to the contrary is laughable.
In fact, it’s just the excuse they need to write us off forever. Clearly, we’re just hateful antis who are more interested in fighting against God than having a fair discussion.
I believe many conversations end here, with Latter-day Saints walking away and shaking their heads.
What should be said is, “That’s an interesting question. Why do you think you’re Christian?”
This open ended question encourages dialogue instead of stifling it. We can then go point by point, and give each argument the attention it deserves.
As a demonstration, I’ll be going over my own arguments as a Mormon, and explaining why I’m left unconvinced.
In my book, “A Biblical Defense of Mormonism”, I attempted to persuade Evangelicals that Mormons were Christian too. I spent half a chapter trying to scare them out of preaching to Latter-day Saints.
After all, I argued, Mormons could be Christian. I pointed to the apostle Paul, who persecuted Christians but later said he was the least of the apostles because of it. Clearly, the only thing to be gained by messing with Mormons was a future of shame and regret.
To that I say, baloney! I’m supposed to avoid preaching to someone because they might be saved and that would be embarrassing? I would be tickled to find a Mormon I preached to in God’s Kingdom, and I think they’d feel the same about me. No one says “I told you so” in heaven.
Here’s the reality. The possibility that I didn’t preach to an unsaved sinner because he seemed Christian is the graver error.
The end result of that isn’t a little awkwardness. It’s a soul damned for eternity. Christians should be too afraid not to preach the gospel.
I also find it fascinating that my old self equated preaching with persecution. Granted, there are times Evangelicals heap real persecution on Latter-day Saints, but challenging their theology doesn’t fit the bill.
Latter-day Saints should welcome the challenge. If their theology proves stronger, it’s a chance to win us to their side. The fact that most of them prefer to throw out pejorative names like “anti-Mormon” instead of talking is a major sign they’re in a cult instead of a religion.
In my book I defined a Christian as someone who believes in Christ and accepts Him as their personal Savior.
I wrote, “So whether The Book of Mormon is true or Joseph Smith was a prophet are irrelevant to this specific point.
For this question all that really matters is whether we believe in Christ or not. As it turns out, we do. We believe Jesus was more than a prophet. He is our Savior, our Redeemer, and our Hope. Nephi of The Book of Mormon said, ‘…We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophecy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins’ (2 Nephi 25:26).” (“A Biblical Defense of Mormonism”, Michael Flournoy, p. 34)
It’s always amazed me how quick Mormons are to quote the dictionary like it’s scripture. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a Christian as one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ.
My Mormon self was careful not to define a Christian simply as one who believes in Christ. If he had, I would have pulled out James 2:19 (ESV) which says:
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
According to the dictionary, demons must be Christian. But that’s not good enough, is it? There’s more to being a Christian than having a knowledge that Jesus is the Messiah. We must accept Him as well.
My counterpart did assert that we must accept the Lord, but he and I have different ideas of what that means. He believed it meant receiving LDS ordinances and keeping the commandments. I believe it’s receiving His righteousness through faith alone.
My old self tried to create a choke point by dismissing the need to talk about Joseph Smith or The Book of Mormon. To that I say, let’s broaden the playing field. Believing in false scripture and prophets does matter, particularly when they teach a pseudo gospel.
Concerning this topic, Paul wrote:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8 ESV)
The Greek word used for accursed is anathema, which implies excommunication by an ecclesiastical leader. In Mormonism, excommunication and salvation are mutually exclusive propositions.
My counterpart pointed out that many Latter-day Saints think that having Jesus in the name of their church proves they are Christian. I wrote:
“It should come as no surprise then, that Latter-day Saints are flabbergasted when someone says we aren’t Christian. It’s very common for us to say, ‘Look at the name of our church, it has Jesus’ name in it. Of course we’re Christian!'” (“A Biblical Defense of Mormonism”, Michael Flournoy, p. 35)
If your church’s name makes you a Christian, then what’s to stop me from starting my own church and naming it “A Better Restoration”? Would that make me a prophet? Would naming myself Jesus make me the Messiah? Of course not.
“So maybe we do believe the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three separate Gods, and maybe we do believe the Father and Son have bodies of flesh and bone as tangible as man’s. But you know what, it’s still irrelevant…
The Bible places emphasis on knowing God, not knowing about Him. Thus we can assume that a simple disciple who has a relationship with God is better off than a scholar who knows all about Him, but hasn’t bothered to get to know Him personally.” (“A Biblical Defense of Mormonism “, Michael Flournoy, p. 35)
Obviously, there’s a lot to unpack here. In this highly contrived hypothetical situation, it’s true that an unlearned disciple is better off than an unsaved scholar. But that doesn’t mean God will overlook an incorrect ontological view of Him.
In fact, Acts 17:29-30 (ESV) says this:
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.
In other words, it’s a sin to view God incorrectly. And while my LDS self had no problem classifying Evangelicals as Christian, I see too many differences now for us to have the same Jesus.
Our Jesus was never created. Our Jesus was always God. He never had to take a body to become complete. Our Jesus is one in essence with the Father and the Holy Ghost. Our Jesus saves sinners despite their works, not because of them.
My Mormon self would have been appalled at this. He argued, “How much ignorance are we allowed to have before God withholds His grace?
Here’s why I ask: some Christians believe Melchezidek was Christ, some describe the Trinity in terms of Modalism, some Christians believe God chose who would be saved before we were born, and others think He’s the type to let us choose. Many Christians I’ve been in discussions with have even said the Trinity is mysterious.” (“A Biblical Defense of Mormonism”, Michael Flournoy, p. 36)
I then quoted Acts 17:23 (KJV) where Paul pointed to an altar with the inscription: ‘To the unknown god’, and said, “Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.”
My argument was that God could be worshipped in ignorance. Otherwise, even Evangelicals couldn’t be called Christian due to their fragmented beliefs.
My arguments were misinformed. The Trinity is mysterious, but not in regards to the descriptions given in the Bible. We know what kind of a Being God is. As far as Modalism, they too are outside the bounds of Christianity and need repentance.
That might sound like nitpicking to Latter-day Saints, but even they have their limits. After all, they wouldn’t consider Muslims to be Christian, but I could use their logic to argue that they are.
After all, don’t they believe in Christ? Sure, they don’t think He’s divine, and maybe they mistakenly call Heavenly Father “Allah”, but that’s just ignorant worship. Based on the dictionary, they’re Christians too.
Mormons can win the argument for their Christianity, but only on a technicality. In the end, this victory is empty and meaningless.
Relying on a textbook definition to be saved is like relying on another driver’s blinker to keep from being hit. It’s the intentions that matter, not whether someone has their blinker on.
If I could tell Latter-day Saints anything, I’d remind them that Christ isn’t bringing a dictionary on Judgment Day. If our names aren’t in the Book of Life, we’ll be damned forever.
Salvation is an intensely personal matter. It’s not the name of our church that’s found in the Book of Life. We can’t get in under the prophet’s umbrella. It’s our names we should worry about.
So the right question isn’t are Mormons Christian. The right question is for the individual. Are you a Christian? Are you on His right hand? Is your name written in The Book of Life, and if so, by whose merits?
There are thousands of nominal Christians in the world today who show up for church and go through the motions. If asked, they’ll claim Christianity. But that’s not the same as being born again.
In Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV) Jesus says,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Clearly, there’s no participation trophy for being in a Christian church. Even if we’ve done works and ordinances in Christ’s name, it won’t count towards righteousness. In the end all that really matters is whether or not we know Jesus.
Can Latter-day Saints be Christian? Absolutely. Christ can save someone anywhere, be it a temple, a prison, or a mosque. However, as the remainder of my series will point out, the LDS church itself does not meet the requirements to be called a Christian church because it teaches a false god and a false gospel.