Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Mormonism and Christianity
Mormonism has had an uneasy relationship with traditional Christianity from its earliest days in the 1820s, when its founder Joseph Smith, Jr., a fourteen year old boy, claimed a vision from God in which God called the creeds of Christianity "an abomination", later published a new work of scripture called the Book of Mormon he said he had translated from a buried set of Golden Plates, and preached a divine restoration of the original church of Jesus Christ, with its gifts, priesthood, and doctrine.
Perhaps because of the combination of such bold doctrinal claims, exponential growth, a number of unusual practices, and differences in core beliefs, Christians have always had a level of conflict with this new religion that claimed to be restored. In the early days of Mormonism, Mormons suffered greater than usual opposition, compared to other anti-traditional sects of their time. At times this conflict turned violent, complicating the relationship that Christians have had with Mormons. In the ensuing years, the conflict has had a strong impact on Mormon history. In fact, because of persecution the LDS were forced to move west in the hopes of finding a place where they could worship in peace and without the conflicts they experienced living in Missouri and Illinois. This enforced insular nature and the doctrinal differences helped to create a substantial opposition from other Christian churches to Mormon teachings and practices.
According to Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition, "Mormonism differs from traditional Christianity in much the same fashion that traditional Christianity... came to differ from Judaism". While adherents of Mormonism have always considered themselves to be Christians because they believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and the Son of God, they also understand that there is an essential and irreconcilable difference between Mormonism and other Christian sects.
Those who practice Mormonism call themselves Latter Day Saints because they believe that the Latter Day Saint movement is a restoration of the original church of Christ in the New Testament (see Church of Christ (Mormonism)). However, as Mormonism from its beginning rejected the traditional churches, including all their sacraments, history, creeds, and debates, so various Christian churches and movements have adopted stances regarding Mormonism as a heretical or apostate form of Christianity, a departure from the Christian faith, or more pejoratively, a cult.
On the other hand, Mormonism, or the Latter Day Saint movement, is not monolithic. Some of the doctrines and practices that distinguish The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from other Christ-based churches originated later in the life of Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois, or under the leadership of Brigham Young among the Mormons who followed him to Utah after the Latter Day Saint movement had experienced various schisms. As the movement has grown and gained worldwide renown, some denominations within the movement such as the Community of Christ have attempted to respond to charges through extensive ecumenical efforts, including engagement in dialog with mainstream Christianity and sometimes even relinquishing their earlier doctrines and practices. Still, many denominations within the movement, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (by far the largest) and many of its splinter groups including the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints still retain many, if not most, of Smith's original doctrines and practices that many Christians denounce.
How early Mormonism diverged from mainstream Christianity
Mormonism arose in the Burned-over district of New York in the early 19th Century, primarily under the impetus of Joseph Smith, Jr., with the influence and support of his father's family, David Whitmer and his father's family, trusted associate Oliver Cowdery, and later Sidney Rigdon (a former Disciples of Christ pastor).
Smith and the early Mormons were by most accounts typical early American Christians. Until the early 1830s, many (and some have argued most) American Christians, including prominent Protestant ministers and political leaders, practiced or at least accepted a brand of Christian faith that also allowed room for a kind of folk spirituality that included visions, heavenly visitations, faith healing, spells, talismans, and divinations with seer stones and dowsing rods. (see Quinn, 1994). Thus, the beginnings of Mormonism, which incorporated many such supernatural elements (particularly visions, visitations, and seer stones), were not necessarily inconsistent with the folk Christianity of the time. However, some Christians of the time viewed all visions and other supernatural occurrences as satanic, including a local Methodist minister who warned Smith that his First Vision was of the devil.
The Book of Mormon and early criticism of American Christianity
One of the first significant events in early Mormonism that created a marked departure from early American Christianity was the production of a new volume of scripture, which Smith claimed to have translated by divine power from buried Golden Plates. This Book of Mormon, published in 1830, purported to introduce a parallel history of Christianity on the American continent, including a description of civilizations and appearances by Jesus not mentioned in the Bible. The book was seen by some as a competitor to the Bible, although Latter Day Saints themselves saw it as a companion and complement to the Bible—which, according to Joseph Smith, had been altered and mistranslated from its original form as the word of God. (See Articles of Faith No. 7.) (Smith also soon began dictating an "inspired translation" of the Bible.)
The publishing of the Book of Mormon prompted some organized Protestant denominations to attempt to discount Smith's credibility, in some cases citing his supposed skills with divination. They also attacked the doctrines taught by Smith including continuous revelation.
The Book of Mormon largely mirrored the teachings of the Bible; however, it also contained bold stands on many Christian controversies, such as infant baptism, the religious status of Native Americans, and the relation between religion and atheism. The book also castigated modern churches for their "incorrect" teaching of doctrines. For example, the Book of Mormon held the view of many contemporary frontier Restorationists, such as groups in Ohio, that there had been an apostasy after the death of Jesus Christ. The book indicted modern churches, saying of them:
- They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.... But behold, that great and abominable church, the whore of all the earth, must tumble to the earth, and great must be the fall thereof. (2 Nephi 28:14, 18.)
The need for a "Restoration" of the original Christian church
With its criticism of modern Christianity, the Book of Mormon found an enthusiastic audience with certain Restorationists whom Smith and his family soon attempted to proselytize. After the conversion of Sidney Rigdon and his Disciples of Christ congregation in Ohio, Smith and his followers began to organize a church that would embody Smith's new insights about Christianity found in the Book of Mormon and later in his revelations. This new church was deemed necessary because the Christian tradition was considered so corrupt and incorrect that the true Christian authority could not be recovered without a restoration. Therefore, in 1830, Smith formed the Church of Christ, which purported to be a restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the "true" original Christianity.
Joseph Smith's belief in the need for a church restoration was a departure from traditional Christian thought. Although most Christians acknowledge corruption and mistakes with the Christian tradition, and indeed, several branches of Christianity accepted the idea of a Great Apostasy to some extent, only the Restorationists viewed traditional Christianity as so fundamentally broken that a restoration was required, rather than a mere reformation. To non-Restorationist Christians, past failures and departures from the truth were seen as continuously being overcome, through councils and decrees. But despite the failures, the fundamental "apostolic succession" made by Catholic and Orthodox branches, or the broader "apostolic tradition" claimed by most Protestant denominations, remained intact. See Restorationism.
Traditional Christian reactions to Mormon rituals and priesthood
Mormonism claimed from the day the church was first organized on April 6, 1830 to have sole earthly authority to administer a church with the ordinances (sacraments) of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At no time did Mormonism accept either the authority or the sacraments of other churches. LDS missionaries carried as a central portion of their message, explicitly or implicitly, that holders of the priesthood in the LDS Church alone are authorized by deity to baptize, and that other clergy (Christian or otherwise) are not. Likewise, the LDS Church claimed (and most Mormon sects still claim) that it alone was authorized as the Church of Jesus Christ. While the LDS Church participates in interfaith activities where possible, the matter of Christian ecumenism is an uncompromisible position in Mormonism, even among its various sects. This contrasts with the practices of some Protestant denominations which accept each other's sacraments.
The hierarchical nature of the priesthood in Mormonism can be contrasted with the Protestant doctrine of the Priesthood of all believers. Despite this hierarchy, a direct relationship with God without an intermediary priest is a fundamental principle to Mormonism. In Mormonism, the First Vision is an important event in part because it is a model of a direct, personal relationship and revelation to which every Latter-day Saint should aspire. The lay clergy in the Church is also a reflection in part that every worthy LDS is entitled to and should become a "priest" or "priestess" to God. In Mormonism, Moses' cry that "Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets" (Numbers 11:29) is taken as a personal encouragement and challenge.
Another observation with regards to the Mormon priesthood is that some teachings and practices are purportedly taught or practiced only in a Mormon temple, to which access is tightly controlled. The LDS Church, for instance, requires a member to be in "good standing" before access is permitted. Those who are given access are instructed to not reveal what goes on within the temple, otherwise they are at the risk of losing their membership in the church.
Vicarious ordinances for the dead
In Mormon theology, based on a saying of Jesus Christ (John 3:5), personal baptism is a required ordinance for a fullness of salvation in the afterlife. This belief supports the LDS doctrine of baptism for the dead, as mentioned by the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 15:29). The performance of baptisms for the dead, as well as other vicarious ordinances for the dead, is a good example of a doctrine and a practice that institutionalizes the tension between Mormonism and other Christian traditions. Baptism for the dead was mentioned in some of Joseph Smith's earliest writings and prophecies, was practiced before Smith's death, and continues to be practiced by the LDS church and the Strangites.
The 19th Century LDS Church preached and practiced this doctrine, but did not pursue it in a large-scale or systematic way--church members typically would perform vicarious ordinances only for recently deceased members of their own immediate families.
As the 20th Century progressed, vicarious ordinance work has become an increasingly important focus of the LDS Church and during the latter half the 20th Century came to be considered one third of the threefold mission of the Church (to Perfect the Saints, Proclaim the Gospel, Redeem the Dead). To assist in redeeming the dead through the vicarious completion of needed ordinances requires a long process. After genealogical research to identify individuals and family relationships, baptisms and other ordinances, such as marriage, are performed for these deceased persons by proxy in LDS Temples. The completion of these ordinances does not assure one's entrance into exaltation. By LDS doctrine, during the afterlife the person will then have the choice whether or not to accept these essential ordinances performed on their behalf.
The increasing importance of this vicarious ordinance work was further emphasized beginning in the last quarter of the 20th Century by a greatly accelerated program of building LDS Temples throughout the world. The temple-building program has been accompanied by an increasing emphasis on the duty of LDS Church members to visit the temple often so as to perform ordinance work for the dead there.
In the temple, deceased Catholics, Orthodox, Jews, Muslims, and members of all other Christian and non-Christian denominations are baptized by proxy, using a member of the LDS Church as a representative of the deceased.
The practice of vicarious ordinance work for the dead, then, shows how ingrained is the Mormon belief in the essential illegitimacy of other Christian churches--the belief that no other church has the priesthood authority to act in the name of God, and no other church has the authority to perform the essential ordinances such as baptism.
Furthermore it is little surprise that doctrines that emphasize the separation between Mormonism and other Christian religions, such as vicarious ordinance work and the Word of Wisdom, came to the fore just as the physical isolation of the Utah Mormons and the distinctive and controversial practice of plural marriage came to an end. The LDS Church seems to seek a certain degree of separation from other Christian traditions, wishing to remain in doctrine--but just as important, in practice--at just the right distance, neither too close nor too far away from the mainstream.
Mormon political, economic, and social practices create conflict with the larger culture
In addition to Joseph Smith's controversial doctrine, the rapid growth of the church, a result of vigorous proselytizing by Smith and his followers, upset many ministers of traditional Christian churches. Under the leadership of Smith, church members gathered in a central location or "Zion", first in Kirtland, Ohio and then in Independence, Missouri. The gathering of so many church members in one area virtually guaranteed friction with local residents. To make matters worse, church members tended to vote as a bloc, magnifying the electoral effect of their already large population. Church members, who by and large were "Yankees", clashed with long-time Missouri residents on matters large and small. For instance, Smith and most church members opposed slavery, a stand that did little to endear them to their Missouri neighbors.
In the end, after a series of guerrilla actions against Mormon communities by local residents and the issuance of an extermination order by Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs, church members were forced to flee the state.
Similar tensions with local residents continued as church members established yet another gathering point in Nauvoo, Illinois. Smith began building Nauvoo into a secular power, negotiating a city charter that gave the city a considerable amount of independence, building the Nauvoo Legion into a military force that rivaled others in the area, and leveraging the city's voting bloc to make it a powerful force in state politics.
The end result of all this was a series of showdowns, involving both the organized political forces of the state and self-organized mobs, that finally left Smith dead and the remaining church members powerless and under siege. Soon after, 12,000 Saints abandoned their homes in Nauvoo and tens of thousands more left their homes in neighboring areas with a feeling that they were being forced from their homes and out of the United States.
In the end, it is very difficult to determine the exact importance of the religious aspect of this conflict between the Mormons and their neighbors in comparison with the social, economic, political and practical factors. For instance, the conflict that ended Joseph Smith's life began when Smith and other Nauvoo city leaders (most of whom were, not coincidentally, also Church leaders) ordered the destruction of a press operated by former church members who were opposed to the secret practice of plural marriage within the Mormon community. This led to a complicated series of legal, political, and military maneuvers on both sides culminating in the arrest of Smith, his incarceration (guarded, insufficiently as it turned out, by the militia of a neighboring town), and his death at the hands of an unruly mob of citizens who broke into the jail.
The confluence of so many religious, political, and social factors is, in fact, no coincidence, because at this period the LDS Church considered itself literally to be the Kingdom of God on Earth. The Church reached quite deliberately beyond the traditional domain of religion to encompass the social, political, economic, and family lives of its adherents. Here, as much or even more than in disputes about purely doctrinal matters, lay the divide between the LDS movement and the rest of American culture.
The next 150 years of Mormon history can be seen to a great degree as the playing out on a larger scale of the ideas embodied in these early conflicts. The early Utah years saw the attempt to raise the ante by creating an independent and isolated Mormon kingdom where everything from the economy to the legal system to family life was built around and centered on sometimes idiosyncratic LDS ideals and beliefs.
Towards the turn of the 20th Century, increasing clashes with ever westward-moving American civilization--particularly over the practice of plural marriage--threatened to destroy the LDS Church. The result was that many of the distinctive economic, political, and social practices that had created so much friction were eliminated or minimized. Plural marriage was reluctantly abandoned and Utah was granted statehood, with all the political and economic changes that entailed. In a few short years, Mormonism's Kingdom of God went from literal to figurative and, outwardly at least, Mormonism moved from the model of independent, all-encompassing theocracy to the rather limited sphere of an ordinary American religious denomination.
A new set of practices and policies gradually received emphasis, practices that allowed LDS church members to live peacefully within the mainstream culture while still maintaining the necessary separation from that culture as a separate and distinct religious tradition. At the same time, these very accommodations made it possible for proseltyzing efforts of the LDS missionary program to continue to reap an exponentially growing number of converts throughout the 20th Century.
In the latter half of the 20th century, the greater American culture began to become more sensitive to racial inequities that had persisted from the American slavery era. But in the LDS church, priesthood blessings continued to be denied to people of African descent. The Book of Mormon discussed relations between dark-skinned and light-skinned people. This together with passages in the Book of Abraham, another new scripture published by Smith in the late 1830s, helped form many Mormon traditions regarding the social and spiritual status of Black people and Black skin. Most significantly they formed the source for the idea that Black people were originally the result of a curse upon Cain and Caanan. This idea had eventually resulted in priesthood blessings being denied to people of African descent starting in 1849. It wasn't until 1978 that this ban was lifted. By then, race within Mormonism had become a source of friction with greater society as the LDS church grew.
The very increase in the numbers of the LDS membership (280,000 in 1900 to over 11 million in 2000) led to a degree of acceptance within the larger American culture, epitomized by lauditory articles in such publications as Reader's Digest. At the same time, the Church's size and growth threatened Christian denominations on another level, leading to campaigns to inform and innoculate mainstream Christians against the LDS Church's message and, to a lesser degree, to confront or re-convert LDS Church members.
Mormons are fond of saying that they are "a peculiar people" and "in the world but not of the world". The LDS subculture has been (half-jokingly) described as "Mormo-American" 1. In fact LDS culture does share more than a little in common with ethnic subcultures in America--African-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Latino-Americans, and so on. These subcultures partly mix with the mainstream, but partly take pride cultivating distinctive traits and traditions from their own history, traits and traditions that help maintain their boundaries as separate and distinct social groups.
Early Mormon antagonism toward mainstream Christianity
- "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may" (11th Articles of Faith).
On occasion, early leaders and members of the Latter Day Saint movement voiced criticisms concerning other Christian churches (generally as a whole). Much of this, however, had to do with the sometimes violent and deadly conflicts that early Latter Day Saints had with mainstream Christians.
The Church's founder and first prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr., expressed what he saw as important flaws in Christianity. He once said,
- "we may look at the Christian world and see the apostasy there has been from the apostolic platform; and who can look at this and not exclaim, in the language of Isaiah, 'The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinances, and broken the everlasting covenant?'" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg 15).
In another instance, Smith said,
- "The teachers of the day say that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, and they are all in one body and one God. Jesus prayed that those that the Father had given him out of the world might be made one in them, as they were one [one in spirit, in mind, in purpose]. If I were to testify that the Christian world were wrong on this point, my testimony would be true" (Ibid, pg 311).
Regarding Catholicism and Protestantism, Smith had these words:
- "Here is a principle of logic...I will illustrate by an old apple tree. Here jumps off a branch and says, I am the true tree, and you are corrupt. If the whole tree is corrupt, are not its branches corrupt? If the Catholic religion is a false religion, how can any true religion come out of it?" (Ibid, pg 375).
Smith's criticism regarding other religions was primarily doctrinal in nature. Smith's personal, or secular, point of view, however, showed considerable tolerance and acceptance for the members of other faiths:
- "I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves" (Ibid, pg 313).
Traditional Christian reactions to Mormon doctrines during the Nauvoo period
Reaction to polygamy
Main article: Plural marriage (Latter-day Saint)
In the years 1840-1844 Smith and a hand-picked but ever-growing group of Mormons covertly practiced polygamy and conducted secret ceremonies. These ceremonies eventually became part of the LDS church's temple ceremonies.
Plural marriage, as it is known among the LDS, is no longer a Mormon practice, except among some minority sects such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The LDS Church officially prohibited polygamy in the 1890 Manifest given by Wilford Woodruff who was President of the LDS Church at the time. In 1910 the LDS Church followed the first manifesto with a declaration to excommunicate any LDS who continued to enter into polygamous lifestyles. Mormon polygamy was a prominent cause of early Christian hostility toward Mormonism.
Reaction to Smith's radical new theology
Smith also made relatively radical doctrinal assertions, such as that the human soul was in the beginning with God, that God was once a man, that God is the literal Father of the human spirit, and that mankind has the intended destiny of becoming like their Father, subordinate to his authority, but equal to him in divinity. The oft-quoted saying (by Lorenzo Snow) that captures this idea is, "As man is, God once was; as God is, man may be."
The doctrine of the Godhead as taught by Mormonism is significantly different from that of traditional Christianity. This is especially true of the Latter-day Saints, who do not believe in the Nicene Trinity. Although it is not always evident in the day-to-day life of a Christian church, traditional Christianity has been historically typified by a fervent and relentless commitment to developing and distinguishing the doctrine of the Trinity from among its rivals; because, all doctrines of biblical Christianity are systematically related to the doctrine of God like water from a fountain. The traditional Christian view of how Mormonism departs from the "apostolic faith" always ultimately centers upon the doctrine of the Trinity.
Nature of humans
After the 1830's, Smith taught that God was once like man and that the purpose of creation was that His children might be made like Him. The deification or exaltation of humanity is a central tenet of Mormonism. Latter-day Saints consider this tenet to correspond with Biblical teachings, including Jesus Christ's citation in John of Psalms 82:6, "Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?" and Paul's promise in Romans 8:17 that believers would be "joint-heirs with Christ," and thus receive the fulness of the Father.
The Mormon doctrine of theosis or deification differs significantly from the theosis of Orthodox Christianity. In Mormonism it is usually referred to as exaltation or eternal life. While the primary focus of Mormonism is on the atonement of Jesus Christ, the reason for the atonement is exaltation which goes beyond mere salvation. All men will be saved from sin and death, but only those who are sufficiently obedient and accept the atonement of Jesus Christ before the judgment will be exalted.
Of all the Mormon doctrines including polygamy, critics generally deem this doctrine the most offensive or even blasphemous. Some Mormons also suggest that discussions of theosis by early Church fathers show an early belief in the Mormon concept of deification, although they disagree with much of the other theology of the same Church fathers, most notably the doctrine of the Trinity.
Nature of God
After the 1830's, starting in Nauvoo, Illinois, Smith taught that God was once a man, and had Himself a Father. As such, some Mormons acknowledge the existence of other gods; though the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost of the New Testament are the only gods worshipped by Mormons, as Mormons believe They are the one God (Godhead) of our universe.
Some Mormons, particularly Latter-day Saints, believe that God is married to an exalted woman, whom they speculatively call a Heavenly Mother. Her existence is referred to briefly in the Church hymn titled "O My Father" (Hymn number 292), and it is presumed in Church teachings that proclaim that each person is "a spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents." Her existence is acknowledged by Church members and leadership, though She is not worshipped.
There are no Mormon teachings about an ultimate or first Creator—such as the "Unmoved Mover " first taught by Aristotle and incorporated into Muslim and most Christian religions—and it is common in Mormonism to hear that the existence of other gods is not pertinent to salvation.
Creation and the Universe
After the 1830's, starting in Nauvoo, Illinois, the teachings of Smith indicated that humans existed as spirit children of God before the creation, and that the purpose of Creation was to provide a probationary estate for humans, who were in reality children of God, or divine children. Additionally, Smith taught, "Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be" (Doctrine and Covenants 93:29). This may also explain Mormonism's teaching that man and God are co-eternal (carefully distinguishing "co-eternal" from "equal"). Traditional Christianity is silent on anything prior to birth or beyond the resurrection of the dead, and has always taught that man is made or created.
Modern Mormonism, Christian ecumenism, and interfaith activities
Presently, Latter Day Saints typically believe that most traditional Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant adherents have much truth, and strong faith in Christ, which is essential for their salvation. They also believe that most of these people will have the opportunity to accept the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ prior to the "final judgment," and that all that truly have faith in Christ will be "saved" or possibly even exalted.
Mormons--as contrasted with mainstream Christians--believe that differences between the doctrine of the Trinity and some Latter Day Saint conceptions of the Godhead are relatively minor and can be supported by biblical scripture, ante-Nicean tradition, similar beliefs in some protestant churches and modern revelation.
However it remains true that none of the LDS churches accept the baptisms of mainstream Christian denominations as valid, though most Christian denominations do accept each other's baptisms. And Mormon missionaries include mainstream Christians indiscriminately in their proselytization efforts, seeking to convince them that some of their core beliefs are false and persuade them that acceptance of Mormon beliefs is necessary.
Ecumenical and interfaith efforts by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Brigham Young, the leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the majority of Mormons after Smith's death, also sounded a conciliatory tone, saying,
- "Some who call themselves Christians are very tenacious with regard to the Universalians, yet the latter possess many excellent ideas and good truths. Have the Catholics? Yes, a great many very excellent truths. Have the Protestants? Yes, from first to last. Has the infidel? Yes, he has a good deal of truth; and truth is all over the earth." (Discourses of Brigham Young, pg 10).
In effect this showed that Brigham Young considered that other religions possessed some knowledge of truth. He obviously considered truths found within the main Christian churches to be comparable to the truths found with 'the infidel' (presumably other, non-Christian religions) in this regard. The overriding principal that Young sought to teach is that truth is found everywhere and the LDS recognized this fact.
In the last several decades, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been making a sustained effort to demonstrate the prominence of Jesus Christ in the church. These efforts have included adding the subtitle "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" to The Book of Mormon and recently re-branding of the church's official logo to place more emphasis on the phrase "The Church of Jesus Christ."
Ecumenical and interfaith efforts by the Community of Christ
More so than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Community of Christ has made dramatic efforts to reconcile its doctrines with mainstream Christianity, and to reach out to other Christians. The Community of Christ:
- has never sanctioned polygamy
- has always ordained persons of any race
- has no required creedal statement, asking only faith in Christ for baptism
- has since 1982 accepted homosexual members fully, homosexual priesthood if celibate
- has since 1984 ordained women
- has since 1994 practiced open communion
- has been in dialog with National Council of Churches, World Council of Churches, and Christian Churches Together
The Community of Christ stands on creed and homosexuality, while being more open, may render it less acceptable or "Christian" to some denominations. It is engaged in ongoing informal discussion within the church concerning further modification of its stance regarding homosexuality, and on the issue of acceptance of other Christian baptisms.
Official positions on Mormonism by traditional Christian denominations
While the Community of Christ has been generally well-received by mainstream Christians, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has thus far received relatively tepid ecumenical acceptance by most mainstream Christian denominations. The Presbyterian Church USA, for example, publishes a brochure describing the church as follows:
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, like the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), declares allegiance to Jesus. Latter-day Saints and Presbyterians share use of the Bible as scripture, and members of both churches use common theological terms. Nevertheless, Mormonism is a new and emerging religious tradition distinct from the historic apostolic tradition of the Christian Church, of which Presbyterians are a part.
- It is the practice of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to receive on profession of faith those coming directly from a Mormon background and to administer baptism. (ibid.)
Nevertheless, the brochure acknowledges that "Presbyterian relationships with Latter-day Saints have changed throughout the twentieth century. By God's grace they may change further." (id.)
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by self-definition, does not fit within the bounds of the historic, apostolic tradition of Christian faith. This conclusion is supported by the fact that the LDS Church itself, while calling itself Christian, explicitly professes a distinction and separateness from the ecumenical community and is intentional about clarifying significant differences in doctrine. As United Methodists we agree with their assessment that the LDS Church is not a part of the historic, apostolic tradition of the Christian faith." 
Likewise, in 2001, in the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith refused to accept Latter-day Saint baptisms. The Catholic Church generally recognizes baptisms from other Christian faiths in the name of the Trinity, provided the baptizer's intent corresponds to that of a Catholic priest. However, because of differences in Mormon and Catholic beliefs concerning the Trinity (Mormons disagree fundamentally with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity), the Catholic Church stated that Mormon baptism was "not the baptism that Christ instituted".
Anti-Mormonism and efforts to counter or convert Latter-day Saints
Main article: anti-Mormonism
Evangelical efforts directed toward Mormons
To fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, Mormonism differs principally from their own understanding of Christianity in its teachings about the nature of Jesus, and the nature of salvation. Evangelical Christianity teaches that Christ offers a salvation so complete that the believer stands in relation to God as though he had achieved a life of perfection. This gift of grace engenders joyous gratitude and a spontaneous life of discipleship. Though this view of gratitude and salvation is compatible with Mormonism, evangelicalism places emphasis on the Kingdom of God as a gift that cannot in any way be earned. Because Mormonism emphasizes "faith without works is dead" (James 1:17), the concept of grace is less prominent than good works. Evangelicals thus perceive Mormon doctrine as conflicting with their understanding of the Gospel of grace and as encouraging its adherents to strive for God's acceptance.
Efforts to counter the activities of Mormon missionaries
Because Mormon missionaries proselytize other Christians indiscriminately, some Christian organizations have published tracts or brochures designed to counter Mormon missionary efforts. Conciliar Press, a department of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, has published a brochure designed to protect Orthodox Christians from the proselytizing efforts of what it describes as "cultists" (Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses). The following excerpt exemplifies the strong partisan feelings involved:
- Although there are important differences between ancient Gnosticism and Mormonism, the similarities are striking. They both replace biblical Christianity with a very elaborate set of legends and esoteric teachings found, for Mormons, in the fanciful tales of The Book of Mormon and the teachings of Joseph Smith.... Firstly, one might ask why God would have allowed His people to dwell in darkness for almost two thousand years after Christ, until the coming of Smith...to lead them to the truth. One might also ask why any intelligent person would become a part of a religious movement founded by [a man] whose dishonesty is so apparent. Finally, what good reason could there be for believing self-proclaimed prophets whose teachings contradict the clear doctrines of the Holy Scriptures, instead of holding to the truth proclaimed by the Church founded by Christ and led by His Apostles and their successors? (Cultist at my Door: An Orthodox Examination of the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses, published by Conciliar Press)
The text of this excerpt, in its style, tone, and quality, and the title and source of the document demonstrate the efforts and doctrinal stance of a number of Christian denominations towards the Mormon faith.
- D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power; Signature Books; ISBN 1-56085-056-6 (1994)
- Stephen E. Robinson; Are Mormons Christians?; Bookcraft, Inc.; ISBN 0-88494-784-X (Hardcover 1991)
- Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition; University of Illinois Press; ISBN 0-25201-159-7 (Hardcover 1985)
- Joseph Fielding Smith; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith; Deseret Book Company; ISBN 0-87747-655-9 (Softcover 1976)
- John A. Widstoe; Discourses of Brigham Young; Deseret Book Company; ISBN 0-87747-664-0 (Softcover 1954)
- Survey shows that Protestants now make up less than half of the U.S. population depending on whether or not Mormons and "just Christians" are classified as Protestants.
- A mainstream Christian criticism of LDS teachings: http://www.bcmmin.org/
- Mormon and Christian information
- Assertion that Mormons are Christian from All About Mormons
- Are Mormons Christians? FAQ by Jeff Lindsay
- Official information about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) (website for visitors or inquirers)
- Journal of Discourses (Various talks from early LDS Church Leaders)
- Official Website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
- Community of Christ official website
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