The Long Version

Retired broadcast journalist. Blogging helps scratch the itch. Recovering exRepublican – Sober and still Conservative.

A Case for Mormons as Christians

with 7 comments

As the electoral process continues toward March 6th and Super Tuesday, Mitt Romney continues to be a front-runner for the Republican nomination.  Since 2008 when Romney first threw his hat into the presidential ring his faith has been under much scrutiny and in many cases attack.

Most recently Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, TX appeared on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, where he repeatedly called the Mormon church or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as it is officially known, a cult.  Many in the political arena chastised the Pastor for his comments but he has remained steadfast behind them and unwilling to soften his tone.

I recently received a copy of a letter sent to Pastor Jeffress by a member of the Mormon faith questioning his comments and using historical data to refute the pastor’s premise and make a case that Mormons have as much claim to the term Christian as any other sect.  It’s not known if Pastor Jeffress has read or replied to the letter at this time.  If such information is discovered I’ll make it available in a future post.

Are Mormon’s Christians?  Read Robert Starling’s case, check his historical facts, and decide for yourself.

Dear Staff Members at First Baptist Dallas,

I’ve tried unsuccessfully to find an email address for Dr. Robert Jeffress, so I’m sending this to all of the members on the First Baptist Dallas staff that I found listed on your website. I hope that at least one of you will forward this on to Pastor Jeffress because I feel it’s important that he have the opportunity to read and understand it.

= = =

Dear Pastor Jeffress,

I’m just one of the millions of people who saw and heard on TV news shows your statements that “Mormonism is a cult” and “not a part of orthodox Christianity”. As a faithful lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I felt a strong reaction to those statements, as you might imagine. My remarks here are only my personal thoughts, but I assure you they are heartfelt.

My reaction was twofold. First, I saw your remarks as an unfortunate “below-the-belt” swipe at Mitt Romney in the hopes of advancing your own favorite political candidate. While you certainly have the right to do that, I think many Americans join me in feeling that such a move was beneath a prominent religious leader such as yourself.

Second, as a devoted believer and follower of Jesus Christ I was saddened that you felt the need to speak out against my faith and beliefs. I’m sure there are those who think it was done with malice, but I’ll try to do the Christ-like thing and give you the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps you’ve just been misinformed about “Mormonism” as many others have been.

But it might surprise you to learn that I actually agree with part of what you said, although perhaps for different reasons than you might imagine.

You said that Mitt Romney is “not a Christian” (and by association myself and the other six million-plus Americans who are Latter-day Saints). But I believe you need to be more specific. There are many different kinds or “flavors” of Christians. I agree that the LDS people are not Baptist Christians or Evangelical Christians or Catholic Christians, etc. I will even agree that we’re not part of “orthodox” or “traditional” flavor of Christianity, if by that you mean the post-Nicene church that became the “universal” or “catholic” version of Christendom.

I believe my faith to be the original church of the Corinthians, the Ephesians, and yes, those who were first called Christians in Antioch, – that same church now restored in these latter days. So I call myself a “latter-day Christian”, with theological roots that precede the “historical” or “orthodox” version that was the product of the various councils and creeds. That “orthodoxy” eventually became so corrupt and so apostate that the Reformers broke away from it in protest of its having “fallen away” from Biblical truths (2 Thess. 2) and “changed the ordinances” (Isa. 24:5) so that the “faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3) was no longer recognizable as the church that Jesus organized.

There were many enlightened Christian thinkers and theologians in history who, like Joseph Smith, believed that Christianity had become apostate and that a restoration of the New Testament church of Christ was necessary.

John Wesley the founder of Methodism wrote:

“It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were common in the Church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian; . . . From this time they almost totally ceased; . . . The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other Heathens . . . This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian Church; because the Christians were turned Heathens again, and had only a dead form left.” – The Works of John Wesley, vol. 7, pp.26-27

As I’m sure you well know, John Smythe the founder of the Baptists first left his position as a Church of England minister and joined the Separatists, but then dissolved his congregation to re-form it as the first General Baptist church among English expatriates in Amsterdam in 1609. He felt that the “historic” or “orthodox” Christianity of his time had wandered astray, especially with regard to the apostate doctrine of infant baptism. Those first Baptists were considered a “cult” by many Protestants in the “traditional” Christian denominations that persecuted them unmercifully.

Around 1640, Roger Williams of Providence, Rhode Island, founder of the first Baptist church in America refused to continue as pastor on the grounds that there was:

“…no regularly-constituted church on earth, nor any person authorized to administer any Church ordinance: nor could there be until new apostles are sent by the great Head of the Church, for whose coming, I am seeking.” – (Picturesque America, or the Land We Live In, ed. William Cullen Bryant, New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1872, vol. 1, p. 502.)

If I understand your words correctly your definition of a Christian (and that of most Evangelicals) is a pretty narrow one, far different from the standard meaning found in most dictionaries. Personally I think anyone who accepts Jesus Christ as the Only Begotten Son of God and as his/her personal Savior who died for our sins and was bodily resurrected on the third day is a Christian. C.S. Lewis described such people as “mere” Christians.

But your narrow definition would exclude anyone who:

  • Does not believe in a closed canon of the 66 books of the Protestant Bible.
  • Does not accept the Nicene Creed as an accurate description of the nature of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.
  • Believes in living prophets and apostles as the “foundation” of Christ’s earthly church.
  • Believes in continuing revelation from God to man.

I could go on. I’m very familiar with the standard arguments against “Mormonism”. But the Bible says that believers in Christ were first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26). I would respectfully submit that those Christians:

  • Did not believe in a closed canon of scripture. (some of the New Testament had not yet been written.)
  • Did not accept the Nicene Creed as an accurate description of the nature of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. (it would not be written for 300 years)
  • Believed in living apostles and prophets as the “foundation” of Christ’s earthly church.
  • Believed in continuing revelation from God to man.

So if you’re going to say that Mitt and I are not Christians based on those reasons, you’ll have to say that the believers in Antioch were not Christians either according to your definition.

You said in your Hardball interview that “Mormonism” is a “cult” because:

  • “Mormonism came 1800 years after Jesus Christ”
  • “Mormonism has its own human leader, Joseph Smith”
  • “it has its own set of doctrines”
  • “it has its own religious book, The Book of Mormon, in addition to the Bible”

Your exact following words were: “and so by that definition it is a theological cult”. You made a weak distinction between a theological cult and a sociological one, but most people will not even notice that fine differentiation. It was obvious to any sophisticated viewer that your main goal was to keep repeating the word “cult”. It’s such an inflammatory buzz word that I’m sure your goal is to use it as often as you can to scare people away from “Mormonism” without seriously considering our theology and our beliefs. It’s a word used to end or avoid discussion, not to foster it. As a Latter-day Saint I welcome the opportunity to “stand ready to give a reason for the faith that is in me”, but those who sling around the word “cult” with respect to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seek to cut off debate rather than to encourage dialog. It’s as though they are afraid of an open and honest discussion.

But following your own definition of “cult” for a moment, I’d like to respectfully submit that:

  • Roman Catholicism came 300 years after Jesus Christ.
  • Roman Catholicism has its own human leader, the Pope (or Peter if you accept the Catholic claims that he was the first Pope)
  • Roman Catholicism has its own set of doctrines (Mariology, transubstantiation, priestly celibacy, veneration of “saints”, indulgences, etc.)
  • Roman Catholicism has its own religious books (9 deuterocanonical more than those found in the Protestant Bible – also used in Eastern Orthodox churches)

And even your own Baptist flavor of Christianity in some ways fits your definition of what makes a cult;

  • “Baptistism” came 1609 years after Jesus Christ
  • “Baptistism” had its own human leader John Smythe – a Church of England minister (see footnote below from the website of the Baptist History and Heritage Society)
  • “Baptistism” had its own unique doctrines, including the “believer’s baptism” of adults.
  • “Baptistism” was considered a cult by the “orthodox” or “traditional” or “historic” Christian denominations of the time.

In fact Baptists suffered severe persecution from other Christians who believed in the “mainline” doctrine of infant baptism prevalent in that era. Thousands of Baptists were martyred for baptizing adults.

One of the dictionary definitions of a cult is that is a small isolated group that is out of the mainstream. That certainly does not apply to my church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the fourth largest religion in America, and the second largest Christian church in Washington, Oregon, and California (after Catholicism). You mentioned that there are 15 million Southern Baptists. By 2012 at the present rate of growth there will be more Latter-day Saints than that.

Pastor Jeffress, in order to be consistent and truthful you would have to admit that the same definition you’ve used to brand “Mormonism” a cult applies at least in part to Roman Catholicism and “Baptistism” as well. Are you willing to say that on national television? I would hope so. I would hope that you’d want to be totally consistent and truthful.

Thank you for your time.

I’m attaching a summary I wrote of what I believe happened to “the faith once delivered to the saints”. There was a great apostacy that fundamentally changed the New Testament church of Jesus Christ into something so different that those Christians at Antioch or Peter or Paul would not have recognized it in the Dark Ages that came upon the earth. (Amos 8:12) That apostacy required the “restitution of all things” prophesied in Acts 3:21 to occur before Christ’s return. That restitution or restoration of original Biblical Christianity was what was looked forward to by Roger Williams.

I testify to you that that restoration has come, and the original Christianity is back on the earth in its fullness as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you would like to investigate these claims I’ll be happy to “bring forth my strong reasons” for “the faith that is in me.” I would welcome a thoughtful dialog.

Cordially yours,

Robert Starling

A Latter-day Christian

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Written by DCL

March 5, 2012 at 4:20 pm

7 Responses

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  1. Interesting. Thanks for sharing it.

    Like

    Jonathan Stone

    March 5, 2012 at 4:25 pm

  2. Here is a shorter, slightly more abstract approach to the question, should you be interested: http://michaelrcollings.blogspot.com/2011/10/mormonism-cult-or-christian.html

    Like

    Michael R. Collings

    March 5, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    • Very good post and a very simple viewpoint that was well supported. Thanks for the link!

      Like

      Doug

      March 6, 2012 at 11:37 am

  3. It looks to me like Dr. Jeffress put forth some very sloppy definitions, and Mr. Starling has little troube hoisting Dr. Jeffress on his own petard. But that doesn’t really answer the question. A cult can be agreed be defined by certain characteristics. (1) A cult is ruled by one or a few leaders, and members are told to view the commands from the leaders as infallible. (2) The cult’s beliefs are kept secret from outsiders. (3) Members of the cult are encouraged to have little contact with anyone or anything outside the cult. (4) Members are financially and sexually exploited. By that definition, anyone who knows the facts will agree that Mormonism was a cult in its early days and is still a cult now.

    I’m not particularly concerned with turning voters against Mitt Romney. There are ample reasons to not vote for Romney without mentioning Mormonism, just as there are ample reasons to not vote for Obama without mentioning Jeremiah Wright. But I think people should be knowledgable about Mormonism.

    Like

    alexbpop

    March 5, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    • Would you then agree with the premise that by those definitions most religions and Christian sects would then be considered cults? And should the word cult then be considered with such a negative connotation?

      Like

      Doug

      March 6, 2012 at 11:30 am

  4. I can’t speak for every religion, but my church, which is the Episcopal Church USA, has no desire for anyone to view the leaders as infallible, to hide its doctrine from anyone, to cut off its members from the outside world, or to exploit anyone. Most mainline churches do none of those things.

    Like

    alexbpop

    March 6, 2012 at 1:31 pm

  5. […] A Case for Mormons as Christians (longversion.wordpress.com) […]

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