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Mormonism and Christianity

Updated: Aug 21, 2018

The Hampton Road area has a uniquely high concentration of churches. We are fortunate to live in an area with so much focus on religion. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (sometimes incorrectly referred to as Mormon,) this means it’s easy to find others with similar values and beliefs. There are many denominations that would consider themselves Christian.

However, are members of the Church of Jesus Christ Christians? This question has led to widespread debate and discussion across the world. Let me do my best to shed some light on the question.

When I was 19, I was asked by my church to serve as a missionary for 2 years in Guatemala. I loved the people and the culture there. As a missionary, I was exposed to many misconceptions and prejudices against the Church. While teaching in the streets one day a fairly common scene played out - an older gentleman pointed a finger at me and said “I know you - you worship that Joseph Smith! I don’t need what you’re preaching!” I tried to share a simple truth with him - that the Savior Jesus Christ is the center of our beliefs and teachings. However, he would hear none of it. This experience, and others, made me realize how much the Church can be misunderstood across the world.

To understand the debate, it’s probably best to start with the term “Christian.” Originally, the term goes back to the members of Christ’s church in ancient times at Antioch. (Acts 11:26) The term simply denoted a believer in Jesus Christ.

However, in modern vernacular, the term has come to indicate a person who holds certain specific beliefs within Christianity as a whole, like the inerrancy of the bible, or a closed canon of scripture, or the belief that the trinity - the Father, Son and Holy Ghost - are one being, not three. These beliefs are not held by members of the Church, and thus many of the Protestant, Catholic, or other faiths simply cannot consider us to be Christian.

To better understand why members of the Church believe themselves to be Christians, consider the following beliefs held by church members:

Jesus Christ is the Savior and Redeemer. His suffering, death, and subsequent resurrection represent the seminal event in human history. We believe that it is through his willing sacrifice that salvation is made possible to mankind.

The Church believes in modern prophets. Just as God called Moses, Abraham, Noah, and others in the old testament, we believe he has called prophets in modern days too. Joseph Smith was the first prophet called since the death of the early apostles. Through him, Christ restored his original church to the earth. Now Russell M. Nelson has been called as a prophet to lead the Church in our day.

Our belief in prophets can cause confusion for some people. Like the older gentleman in Guatemala from my account above, some confuse our belief in prophets as taking the place of our belief in our Savior - Jesus Christ. On the contrary, like the prophets of old, these great men testify of Jesus Christ and teach us the way back to him. They provide correct understanding and interpretation of scripture, and show us that Christ still speaks today through modern prophets. Rather than replacing our belief in Christ, they enhance our belief in Him.

The Book of Mormon

The term “Mormon” stems from a belief in the Book of Mormon. What does the Book of Mormon teach about Christ?

In the Book of Mormon is a Book called Mosiah. In chapter 15, a Prophet Abinadi is teaching a people who lived about 150 years before Christ was born. He taught the following about the Savior:

“Yea, even so he shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father.”

In the Book of Alma Chapter 7, the Prophet Alma is teaching the people about the Savior. He taught the following just under 100 years before Christ was born:

“And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God. And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”

As you can tell from the above, a belief in Christ and his role as Savior and Redeemer is a deeply held and important belief to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thus, when one asserts that “a Mormon is not Christian,” members of the Church would hear that as “you don’t believe in Christ.” Such an assertion goes contrary to the very fiber of the faith held by church members. While in reality, the person stating that claim may really mean “you don’t believe in the same doctrines as Protestant or Catholic religions.”

The assertion clearly carries a weight that evokes strong reactions from both sides. I hope understanding each side brings a better common ground on which to build in the religious community in Hampton Roads. Finding that common ground will lead to more willing discourse with one another, better listening, and greater service to the community as a whole.

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