Challenge: Why Do You Say I’m Not a Christian?

Posted: September 14, 2010 by Amy Hall in Choosing My Religion, Jesus Changes Everything, Weekly Challenge

The kinds of questions we hear from friends who are part of another religion are usually very different from those we hear from atheists. So for the challenge this week, we’re going to move away from atheist objections and think about a religious one.

Imagine your LDS (Mormon) friend comes up to you, looking very troubled, and says:

One of the people from your church just told me I’m not a Christian. That doesn’t make any sense. Of course I follow Christ–I’m part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It’s right there in the name. I tried to explain that to him, but it didn’t make any difference. He got a phone call, so he left before I could remind him that Jesus said, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” That’s the test for recognizing Christians right from Jesus himself! And we follow all of his teachings. I just don’t get how that guy could think I’m not a Christian…

You don’t think I’m not a Christian, do you?

There are probably many different directions you could go with this one, so it will be interesting to see what sort of responses you offer. All answers, whether tactical or informational, short or long, are welcome. Brett will be back on Thursday to give his answer and let you know how you did.

Comments
  1. Sam Harper says:

    I think you have to be extremely careful with this topic when you talk to Mormons, because they are very sensitive about it and easily offended. And once they are offended, they won’t be interested in anything else you have to say. So rather than focus on whether or not Mormons deserve the label “Christian,” I prefer to talk about whether the Mormon gospel is the same gospel presented in the Bible, and whether the LDS Church accurately represent God and Jesus.

    But, assuming I’m pressed to answer the question, I would point out that unless the word, Christianity, means something in particular, then it’s a meaningless word. And I would ask them if they think anybody is a Christian just because they invoke the name of Jesus. Take John Cross or Marcus Borg, for example. They both claim to be Christians, but they deny that Jesus ever claimed to be the messiah, they deny that his death atoned for sins, and they deny that he was raised from the dead. The affirm all these things, of course, but only in a metaphorical sense, and it’s far from obvious that there’s any reality behind the metaphor. I’d ask the Mormon if they would consider John Crossan and Marcus Borg to be Christians just because they use the name of Jesus?

    Surely, there’s more to being a Christian than that. The reason I don’t think Mormons are Christians is because the Mormon worldview has so little in common with Christianity. It’s just a completely different worldview. The god described by Joseph Smith in the King Follett discourse is worlds apart from the God described in Isaiah 40-55, for example. The Jesus they believe in is radically different than the Jesus who is described as the uncreated creator in passages such as John 1:3 and Colossians 1:15ff. The Mormon gospel is radically different than the gospel presented in the Bible. The only way Mormons can be Christians is if you strip the word of it’s meaning and make it so ambiguous that it becomes a useless word.

    I had a discussion with a Mormon fellow named Tracy in the comment section of my blog (starting almost half way down) about whether Mormons should be called Christians, and on what basis, so you can see what I’m talking about.

  2. Mike Mitchell says:

    I like Sam’s answer.

    I would start by pointing out the differences between the Mormon Jesus, and the Orthodox Jesus. Just the facts, so as not to be offensive.

    • Sam Harper says:

      One of the difficulties of drawing distinctions between Mormon theology and orthodox theology is that many Mormons themselves are unaware of what their church has taught. So as soon as you start bringing these differences up, they accuse you of misrepresentation. Then they don’t take you seriously anymore.

      A tactic I’ve found useful is asking them what they believe about certain things, or asking them to clarify “misconceptions” you have about Mormonism. Say you’ve heard the LDS Church teaches “such & such” and if it’s true. If affirm what you’re saying, then you can start contrasting it with orthodox Christianity. But if they deny what you’re saying, then ask them if they think those misconceptions are heresies, or ask them what they would think of somebody who actually believed those “incorrect” things. For example, if a Mormon insists that there is one and only one God in all of reality (not just this universe), then ask, “So if somebody believed there were many gods, would that make them a heretic? Or if a prophet came along and denied that there was only one god, would that make them a false prophet?” It’s hard for anybody to claim that you could be wrong about such an important issue and still be orthodox. Once a Mormon commits to the idea that if anybody believes something like polytheism or henotheism (or whatever other “misconceptions” there are about the LDS Church), then it’s only a matter of time before they discover that many of their own leaders, including Joseph Smith, have taught these “heresies.” And it’s also more effective when somebody discovers something on their own than when you try to convince them of it.

      I remember one time I was arguing with a Mormon about whether the LDS Church teaches a plurality of gods or not. He insisted that they were strictly monotheistic. I pointed to Joseph Smith’s King Follett discourse as a counter-example. His response was that the King Follett Discourse is not part of the standard works of the LDS Church, and is therefore not official doctrine. My response was that if he meant that Joseph Smith’s portrayal of God in that discourse was wrong, or that it went against the official teaching of the LDS Church, then that would make Joseph Smith a false prophet since he claimed in that discourse to be getting that information by inspiration from the Holy Spirit. And that was the end of that conversation.

  3. Living on the border of Nevada/Utah and going to church in Utah makes this subject very important to me.

    First I will say it is almost never useful to debate with them over what they believe. Most people who practice their LDS religion have been taught systematically why their version of “the gospel” is true, and how to dismantle any claims against it. Unless you understand what they believe and why fairly well, you will likely get caught up in a debate of doctrine and interpretation, rather then being able to tell them the gospel.

    One of the best ways I have found to conquer this question is to simply say “Well, let me tell you what I believe a christian is, then you can tell me if that describes you.” At this point most of them will allow you to do that, because they believe you are giving them a chance to defend their faith, when in fact you are opening the door to telling them the gospel. When doing this it is critical to ensure you not use words that will offend them because if you do they will shutdown. One example, never use the word hell, instead say “eternal separation from God”, semantics yes, but if you want them to listen you need to ensure you tell them in a way they will.

    After I tell them what I believe a christian is, they then have to answer to that. I ask them “does that describe you”? If they are honest they have to say no, because the LDS religion does not recognize that Christ is THE son of God, that he died for ALL of our sins, and that in order to have salvation we must believe that Christ’s death and resurrection are sufficient to conquer that sin. If they are not honest they may say “like I said I practice what Christ taught”.

    If they respond the second way this is when you have to say to them “knowing what Christ taught and following that as a set of rules is not the same as having complete trust that his death and resurrection are sufficient for your salvation”. Their claim that they practice what Christ taught is primarily a claim the LDS church uses to fool others, and their members, into believing they are Christians. Dismantling this can be very tricky but can be done if you desire to do so. Before you attempt that however, you must ensure that you have first explained to them what you believe a christian is by presenting them the gospel because that becomes your baseline for all other discussions.

  4. Shawnie says:

    Yes, in every sense of the word! How about when those who oppose the LDS Church say we’re “not Christians”? That we believe in a “different” Jesus Christ?

    This is nothing more than an uncorroborated play on words. I do believe a few of the people who claim we’re not Christians, actually have good intentions. They were unknowingly duped by someone’s competitive agenda and false information. The main purpose of the non-Christian claim is to bias Evangelicals and other Protestants enough so they won’t even consider the rapidly-growing LDS Church, being thwarted by the taboo “non-Christian” slander. Thus, good and sincere folk, will be deterred from knowing what is really here, including that we’re a thriving, Christ-centered church. (Do not be deceived, ask a Mormon what they believe.)

    A couple of key ideas discussed here about the “Christian” question. No faithful LDS will ever deny the Christ. Evangelicals do not have a monopoly on the title “Christian” nor exclusive rights to Jesus Christ.

    The arrogance of “I’m a Christian and you’re not because you don’t believe some narrowly defined piece of doctrine that I believe” is an extreme viewpoint. It’s important to understand what the justification for the inaccurate non-Christian labels are:

    Evangelicals believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost as three persons who are really the same person taking on three different roles. Sometimes all at once, like at Jesus’s baptism as recorded in Mark chapter 1. That is the concept of the Trinity.

    The LDS believe in the Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost as three distinct persons, each with their own divine role, yet completely unified as one in purpose. This is the Godhead.

    This sums up their claim as to why we’re not Christian. Not too impressive, is it?

    The Bible has just as many quotes that seem to support one idea over the other. You could Bible bash forever on that topic. My favorite is Revelations 3:20-21. You’ll also hear the term “polytheism” (multiple gods) hurled our way from anti-Mormons, as an attempted derogatory description. Problem is the Bible is full of verses that could also be described as “polytheism”. (i.e. Genesis 1:26, Psalms 82:6, John 10 34-35, Mark 1:9-11, John 17:1-26, Revelations 3:20-21)

    For overall perspective, the habit of condemning others that don’t share your same exact understanding of doctrine with “I’m a Christian and you’re not” is simply intolerance and bigotry. For sure, simply saying it doesn’t make it true. Given the facts and truthful information, it is ABSURD to claim that the LDS are not Christians. Any honest soul that looks very hard, will see through this competitive attempt to malign a powerhouse of a church.

    Here is a statement from from FARMS, a research organization associated with Brigham Young University…

    “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints belongs under the broad umbrella of Christianity because we do believe in Jesus Christ, we do preach him crucified and resurrected, we do have faith in his Atonement, we do love him for his grace and mercy, and we do trust in his eventual return.”

    I love what a fellow LDS member wrote over on CNN comments a few years back, in fact, I saved it because he expressed his view well.

    “As a previous Methodist and convert later in life to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints I have to say that the Christ I worshiped then IS the same Christ I worship now. Absolutely, no different. I still keep in contact with my Methodist Sunday School teacher from my childhood and adore her. She set the foundation for the same Christ I worship today. Those that say otherwise are simply misinformed, and I believe purposely so in many cases. I expect that most that support this view have never even stepped into an LDS church or devoted any serious time to any reading other than anti-Mormon literature which typically selectively chooses controversial issues and uses quotes taken out of context to support mis-leading half truths. I am grateful that those of faiths other than mine have faith in their lives and in particular a belief in Christ. It is however hard for me to understand why members of other faiths attack my faith. I have no interest in attacking theirs. I have no problem with others investigating my church, in fact I invite it. However judging a candidates worthiness to serve as President of the United States based on his faith is disturbing when we consider separation of Church and state. But if you are going to use that for your criteria you better do it for all of the candidates and to the same degree. I think what you find may surprise you. From what I have seen so far, many talk the talk but I’m not convinced they walk the walk. By the way, I will not vote for a candidate simply because he is a Mormon. Harry Reid for example is a Mormon and I strongly disagree with his views. I will vote for the candidate that I think will do the best job based on his track record and my perception on who will do the best job for the country. At this point I am undecided, but have to admit that Mitt is pretty impressive.”
    Posted By Brian, Gloucester, VA : June 18, 2007 9:30 pm

    Good luck as you tackle mis-information about the LDS online!

    (This post is an excerpt from the “Antidotes to Anti-Mormonism” page.)

  5. Sam Harper says:

    Shawnie, you said, “The arrogance of ‘I’m a Christian and you’re not because you don’t believe some narrowly defined piece of doctrine that I believe’ is an extreme viewpoint.

    I’m wondering if you draw the line anywhere at all. For example, what would you think of somebody who calls themselves a Christian, but they don’t believe God exists as anything more than a projection of the human mind, they deny that Jesus is really the messiah in anything other than a metaphorical sense, they deny that Jesus atoned for sins, and they deny that Jesus was raised from the dead? Unless we can exclude somebody as “Christian,” the word has no meaning. Do you really think it’s arrogant merely subscribe to a particular definition of a word, and then to stick to that definition? Is it being extreme merely to think the word, “Christian,” has a particular meaning?

    You also said: Evangelicals believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost as three persons who are really the same person taking on three different roles. Sometimes all at once, like at Jesus’s baptism as recorded in Mark chapter 1. That is the concept of the Trinity.

    Given your aversion to Evangelicals misrepresenting Mormons, it surprises me that you would turn around and misrepresent Evangelicals—especially Trinitarians. The concept of the Trinity is emphatically not that the three persons are the same person. You may be thinking of modalism, which is the view that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are modes or manifestations of the same person. In the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct persons, but the share the same being. Big difference.

    For overall perspective, the habit of condemning others that don’t share your same exact understanding of doctrine with “I’m a Christian and you’re not” is simply intolerance and bigotry.

    Then Jesus and Paul were both intolerant bigots. And you are an intolerant bigot since you are condemning the rest of us for our doctrine on what constitutes a Christian. But it not intolerant or bigoted to think a word has a particular meaning. If “Christian” means anything at all, then there is such a thing as not being a Christian, and it isn’t intolerant or bigoted to identify what is or isn’t a Christian based on what the definition of “Christian” is.

    “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints belongs under the broad umbrella of Christianity because we do believe in Jesus Christ, we do preach him crucified and resurrected, we do have faith in his Atonement, we do love him for his grace and mercy, and we do trust in his eventual return.”

    Here we have FARMS giving us a definition of “Christian.” Now be honest with me. If somebody claims to be a Christian, but denies all these things, is it bigoted or intolerant to say that they are not really Christians?

  6. Gabe says:

    “What do you mean by that?”

  7. In thinking more on this, and in response to other posts, I need to share this.

    I do not claim that my LDS friends teach about a different Jesus, but that they misunderstand who he is and what his death and resurrection mean for us, as many in this world do. The LDS church does not believe his death was sufficient for the forgiveness of our sins, being all we need to have salvation.

    God does not desire for us to believe we need to accomplish something before he is willing to give us grace, He is willing to give us grace because we cannot accomplish it in any way on our own. He is willing because he created us in love, and loves us still despite our unworthiness to receive it. He gave us grace that is sufficient, and He gave us mercy though we deserved condemnation. He did not ask us to figure him out, He tells us who he is and what he has done for us plainly and simply in his word. If anyone thinks that word is insufficient to realize what God has done, and adds to it, that person simply does not believe God has told us the truth. If anyone believes God has not told them the truth, he cannot claim to be a christian.

    • Sheri says:

      Very well said, Kelly. I believe that the inability to grasp the concept of grace and it’s sufficiency is what drives many who seek to find a man-directed path to salvation.

  8. Amy Hall says:

    Shawnie, Sam is correct that you’ve described a heresy called “Modalism” rather than the Trinity. Brett has been posting a series of videos on this blog explaining what we mean when we say “Trinity.” We’d love for you to stick around and watch those as they come up. I think they would help you get a better understanding of our differences. You can find the two videos he has so far in this category.

  9. Adrian Urias says:

    Oh how wonderful that this came up this week! I actually took up Bretts challenge from a previous video to actually invite Mormon missionaries into our home. We had a good discussion. No one was convinced of much, but it was a great learning experience.

    The Trinity did come up in our conversation, and I did tell them that they strayed from orthodox Christianity in that way, so they couldn’t really call themselves Christian. They did try to meet that by saying “by their fruits you shall know them”, but they used it earlier to distinguish between all the false churches and the only true church, theirs. Or so they claim.

    So first off, I’d probably point out to this person, who wants to say he is still a Christian and LDS that “by their fruits” is not a good argument. And isn’t it ironic that right before that, Matthew 7:15 tells us to beware of false prophets. Just because the name Jesus is in there, doesn’t neccesarily mean that it is Christianity. It may be related, I’d certainly cede that, but Muslims believe in Jesus in a way, that doesn’t make them Christian. I think some Buddhists also say that Jesus was a reincarnation of the Buddha, that doesn’t make Buddhists Christian. So in the same way, though LDS can claim some relation to Jesus, that doesn’t make them Christian. They need to recognize what Christ taught about himself, that he is God incarnate, and was co-eternal with the Father.

    As Brett pointed out in the previous video concerning the Trinity, Mormons believe that God is three beings, but Trinitarians believe God is one being. Christianity is monotheistic, Mormonism is not. So one cannot say that Mormons = Christians.

    It also might be helpful (or not) to bring up that in Mormon history, the LDS would explicitely claim that they weren’t Christian. They wanted to make that distinction clear. Not so much now, perhaps for pr purposes.

    But yeah, I’d emphasize the Trinity.

    • Adrian Urias says:

      I’d just like to reword the statement:

      As Brett pointed out in the previous video concerning the Trinity, Mormons believe that God is three beings, but Trinitarians believe God is one being. Christianity is monotheistic, Mormonism is not. So one cannot say that Mormons = Christians.

      to…

      As Brett pointed out in the previous video concerning the Trinity, Trinitarians believe God is one being. But Mormons believe that God is three beings. Christianity is monotheistic, Mormonism is not. So one cannot say that Mormons = Christians.

    • Sam Harper says:

      When they use the “fruit” argument, it might be a good idea to ask what they mean by “fruit.” What counts as fruit? If it’s just their behavior, then yeah, they usually got good fruit. But then so do Jehovah’s Wtinesses. And many ordinary Christians also have good fruit. But if it also includes their teachings, then whether they have good fruit or not is the issue under dispute. Since Joseph Smith taught many things contrary to the Bible, his fruit was not good, which makes him a false prophet.

  10. As a stated in a previous comment, one must be aware of what the mormom church teaches about “being christian” in order to adequately answer questions or statements that may come up in a discussion such as this. In nearly ever situation I have found that I can learn this by going to the LDS website and searching their doctrines, statement, and teachings. This is helpful because they systematically teach what they believe to their followers, therefore they all know and use this as a point of reference for any argument they may give. This is a statement made to the church by Stephen Robinson in May of 1988.

    http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=e0710e2cbc3fb010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=024644f8f206c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

  11. Stephen says:

    This is how it would play out for me…

    I would first start by apologizing for my “christian” brother, who just called you out and didn’t bother to give reason why then walk away. I don’t know if you’re a christian or not but how bout we get some juice and talk about it….

    I feel that if you can do this the doors are opened for a wide range of discussion.