And therefore, inter alia¸ Mormonism is not a valid form of Christianity, despite its apparent Christian piety and manifest virtues. But Mormonism as a cultural phenomenon, rather than just a religious system, is a net positive for America.
This post is largely a response to Dr. Bruce Charlton’s position that Mormonism is a valid form of Christianity, and that we can know it because of Mormonism’s success in inculcating personal piety toward Jesus Christ, healthy families with far-above-replacement-level fertility, and a well-ordered society. Along with Mormon self-identification as being Christian.
Of course, this is not just about Mormonism. There are many groups calling themselves Christian who are of questionable status. I suggest below that there is a way to determine their validity that is relatively simple and that does not diminish the group any more than is necessary in order to maintain our integrity as Christians.
Dr. Charlton has, I believe, made it clear that he does not wish to discuss this issue theologically, and I am therefore raising it here at Orthosphere. I don’t raise this topic to badmouth him, for I have great respect for Dr. Charlton. On most topics his writings show great insight and originality.
Here’s my basic point: The sine qua non, the indispensible element, of Christianity is the forgiveness of our sins by our repentance and faith in Christ. And this forgiveness, this salvation, is unlike outward piety and healthy individuals, families, and societies because it is not visible to the naked eye. We must therefore trust what God says in Scripture about how He forgives us, and not be misled by that which is externally appealing.
And the faith in Christ that is necessary for salvation includes—but is not limited to—accurate knowledge of Jesus Christ. For example, Jesus says in John 8:24:
I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.
Here, Jesus links belief in a specific fact about Himself with salvation. This places Mormonism outside the pale of orthodoxy, for it clearly teaches a different Jesus.
The Mormon Jesus, for example, is not Jehovah, but a different being, the “spirit brother of Lucifer.” God the father, in Mormonism, is not eternal spirit, but an exalted man. And there is only one Mormon god for Earth, but each planet has its own god, making Mormonism polytheistic, not monotheistic.
Some argue that these distinctions are not important because they are theological speculations about transcendent reality. But Christian salvation requires faith, which means trust based on accurate knowledge that is believed. Mormonism does not trust the Bible and Christian tradition when they say (among other assertions) that Jesus is God, that God is Spirit, and that there is only one true God. This is not just a matter of wrong ideas, but sinful lack of belief. Joseph Smith sinfully refused to believe the Bible and Christian tradition on many important points, and the church he founded follows his lead.
Can we identify a minimum of what you have to believe in order to be saved? Not in a legalistic sense. Faith is trust, not a checklist of theological propositions. Some religious bodies actively reject the truth about Christ, replacing it with their own man-made tradition, and it is lack of trust rather than a list of specific disbelieved doctrines that ultimately shows their un-Christian nature.
At the same time, of course, a valid Christian church has to draw up a list of important truths that her members should believe. Christians need to know how to spot a counterfeit.
Note that since our salvation is only by repentance and faith in Christ, Satan’s ultimate designs are served just as well by outward piety and order as by obviously sinful behavior, if the piety and order are not accompanied by genuine faith in Christ. People can participate in an orderly and apparently-pious society, only to end up damned because their sins were not forgiven because they did not have faith in the real Christ. Scripture itself warns us not be taken in by false Christs and false gospels and therefore we know that such counterfeits of Christianity do exist. And Mormonism is one of them.
This is not to say that personal piety and virtue are irrelevant to our judgment of whether an individual is Christian. Christian salvation always shows some fruits, and therefore the one in whom you see no fruits of repentance is probably not Christian. [Note the wording: “in whom you see…” The Christian always has some fruits, but you may not see them.] And personal holiness is an important way Christians draw unbelievers to want to hear about Christ.
But personal holiness is not Christian salvation, and counterfeits of Christianity abound. Christian salvation is through repentance and faith in Christ, with faith being accurate knowledge of Christ, agreement with the knowledge, and trust that the One who is known will save you from your sins. It is not enough to think of yourself as a Christian, or to display apparently-Christian piety, or to be personally virtuous, or to participate in a well-ordered religion or civil society that is known as being Christian.
We can admire the Mormons for the virtues they do possess: religious piety, large and healthy families, a generally clean and well-ordered society, relative immunity to the ugliness and perversions of liberalism, and so on. These are all real goods, and are to be admired and emulated when possible
But the conditional statement “If Christian salvation, then fruits” cannot be reversed. The converse, “If fruits, then Christian salvation,” is not valid. Mormonism misses the mark.