Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

Are Mormons Christians?

Are Mormons Christians? For pretty much all Mormons, the answer is “yes, of course they are.” For many Catholics and Protestants, however, the answer is just as clearly “no, of course they aren’t.” Mormons find this unwillingness to call Mormons Christians insulting and bigoted, while those who don’t consider Mormons to be Christians find this imputation of bigotry insulting. And back and forth the whole thing goes. What to make of all this?

As I see it, there are two different senses in which the word “Christian” might be used. First, it may be used to describe members of the body of Christ, that is, anyone who has been validly baptized. In this sense, being a Christian isn’t a matter of holding to certain theological or religious beliefs; if a person is validly baptized, then he is a Christian and remains a Christian even if he becomes a Muslim or an atheist or a devil-worshiper.

While there is, in my opinion, much to be said for this sense of the word “Christian”, it has one major black mark against it – it is not the sense in which people typically use the word. Typically people use the word “Christian” to apply to people who hold to certain beliefs. Of course, exactly what a person has to believe to count as a Christian is widely controversial, and all sorts of standards have been proposed for separating out the wheat from the tears. Some say it is faith in Jesus Christ, others that it is belief in the creeds, yet others belief in the Bible, or in certain opinions about the Bible, such as that it is inerrant or the only religious authority. In my humble opinion the whole thing is a hopeless mess. In fact, the hopelessness of this sort of project was one of the things that led me towards Catholicism.

As it stands, I would prefer to explain this belief-centered sense of “Christian” thus: a Christian is someone who believes *enough* of the teachings handed down by Christ to the apostles. What counts as enough will vary greatly according to the context. In strict contexts, a person will only count as a Christian if they hold to most or all of the teachings of Christ, in looser contexts (which are more common), you can get by with belief only in a small core of true Christian beliefs (it was in one very loose context, for example, that Chesterton claimed Islam was actually a Christian heresy).

Now, the fact that we live in such a religiously diverse society has had the effect of loosening up the typical context in which the word “Christian” is used, and understandably so. After all, Methodists (hopefully) believe that the tenants of Methodism are the true teachings of Christ, while Lutherans believe that theirs are the true teachings, and so forth. Defining “Christian” narrowly in such a circumstance can only lead to there being many different groups, each of whom call themselves and only themselves Christians. Beyond being confusing, this approach is rather uneccumenical, and ours is a very ecumenical age. As such, people have tended to use the term Christian broadly, so that it covers pretty much everyone who would call themselves Christian.

But not quite. As noted above, many Protestants and Catholics are unwilling to extend the term so far as to include Mormons. And Mormons, as far as I can tell, are understandably irked by this. Which isn’t to say I don’t think the tenets of the Mormon church diverge significantly from the true teachings of Christ, or that the difference between Mormon and Catholic belief is greater than the difference between Catholic and Protestant belief. I do and it is. But Protestant beliefs also diverge significantly from the true teachings of Christ, and while it is perfectly possible to drawn the boundary-line for Christianity to include Protestants but exclude Mormons, I don’t see any pressing need to do so. At least in some contexts I think inclusion makes sense, and the insistent refusal to do recognize Mormons as Christians in any context can only be seen by Mormons as an intentional slight.

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February 14, 2008 - Posted by | Ecumenism, Mormonism

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