Apostasy/Relationship of the Church to other branches of Christianity

Relationship of Mormonism to other branches of Christianity


Question: How does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints relate to other branches of Christianity?

The doctrine of the apostasy does not imply that everyone outside the Church of Jesus Christ is going to hell

The doctrine of the apostasy does not imply that everyone outside the Church of Jesus Christ is going to hell. It does not preclude the many beliefs and values we hold in common with other Christians. However, it does imply that the doctrines of other religions are in a number of ways corrupt, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only authorized Church of Jesus Christ upon the Earth. When we interact with our neighbors of other Christian faiths, our leaders encourage us not to be judgmental, but to build on common ground.

Clearly the LDS believe pure Christianity was lost from the earth, and that other branches of Christianity are corrupted. But in some cases, Evangelical critics of the Church appear to assume that this belief precludes any similarities or interaction with other Christian faiths. For instance, they write,

When Joseph Smith began his new religious movement in 1830, there was no great effort to meld or compromise the teachings of the Mormon Church with those of nineteenth century Christianity. Instead, early leaders prided themselves on their uniqueness and they boldly and publicly proclaimed their differences. They made little or no effort to associate with what they considered "apostate Christendom."

More recently however, some members of the LDS Church have felt it was time to declare to the world that the differences are only superficial or, at best, a problem of semantics. Some Mormon apologists have even declared that the divide between Christianity and Mormonism is not all that wide. Having studied this movement for a great portion of our lives, we find such concessions incredible, for if this is really true, it brings into question the Mormon concept of a so-called "complete apostasy."[1]:11

Modern LDS leaders have made no attempt to "meld or compromise" our teachings with those of contemporary Christian churches

First, while it is true that early LDS leaders made no attempt to "meld or compromise" their teachings with those of contemporary Christian churches, critics of the Church never demonstrate that recent LDS leaders have done any such thing. Often the problem has been that LDS have used different terminology than other Christians, causing some misunderstanding. For instance, as a young LDS missionary, I assumed that all Evangelical Christians were "antinomians," who believed that one could commit any number of mass murders, etc., after committing to Christ, and still be saved. On the other hand, my Evangelical friends usually believed that the LDS teach we are "saved by works," rather than by grace. We would argue and argue, with them emphasizing grace NOT works, and me arguing strenuously that good works are necessary. In reality, I found out later, there are a few antinomians out there, but many Evangelicals believe a true commitment to Christ entails a change in behavior. Someone who is "really saved" would never commit murder. Likewise, while I know of some LDS who incorrectly believe we are "saved by works," the Church actually teaches that we are saved by grace through faith, but that good works cannot be separated from true faith.

Naturally, there are still differences between Evangelical and LDS soteriology. For example, we believe that good works are meritorious and have no doctrine of "eternal security," but the point is that the differences (in many cases) are not nearly as great as I once thought. I never would have come to this realization, however, had I not attempted to first establish common ground with my Evangelical acquaintances, and then move on to the differences. More and more, LDS leaders and lay members have been adopting this more peaceful approach as we come into contact more with our neighbors of other faiths. On the other hand, critics approach Mormonism by only pointing out differences, and in fact many of those differences are greatly exaggerated. Thus, they fail to accurately describe the true differences between the Church of Jesus Christ and other branches of Christianity.

LDS leaders have always proclaimed our unique status among Christian churches

Second, whereas LDS leaders have always proclaimed our unique status among Christian churches,[2] they have always pointed out that other faiths still have a good deal of God-given truth, and have pointed out important common ground. For instance, Joseph Smith said,

If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way. Do you believe in Jesus Christ and the Gospel of salvation which he revealed? So do I. Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst; and they will do it before the millennium can be ushered in and Christ takes possession of His kingdom.[3]

Brigham Young said,

It was the occupation of Jesus Christ and his Apostles to propagate the Gospel of salvation and the principles of eternal life to the world, and it is our duty and calling, as ministers of the same salvation and Gospel, to gather every item of truth and reject every error. Whether a truth be found with professed infidels, or with the Universalists, or the Church of Rome, or the Methodists, the Church of England, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Quakers, the Shakers, or any other of the various and numerous different sects and parties, all of whom have more or less truth, it is the business of the Elders of this Church (Jesus, their elder brother, being at their head,) to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation, to the Gospel we preach, to mechanism of every kind, to the sciences, and to philosophy, wherever it may be found in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, and bring it to Zion.[4]

The Book of Mormon prophet Alma wrote a poem where he expressed his desire to preach the Gospel to everyone in the world, but then he corrected himself:

For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to the which is just and true. Alma 29:8

Even when the people of a certain time or culture did not have access to the pure Gospel message, God makes allowances for them

That is, even when the people of a certain time or culture did not have access to the pure Gospel message, God makes allowances for them, and gives them as much of His wisdom as they are able to receive. Notice the following statement by Brigham Young on the state of the souls of people like John Wesley, who lived according to the knowledge they had.

I never passed John Wesley's church in London without stopping to look at it. Was he a good man? Yes; I suppose him to have been, by all accounts, as good as ever walked on this earth, according to his knowledge. Has he obtained a rest? Yes, and greater than ever entered his mind to expect; and so have thousands of others of the various religious denominations.[5]

Contrary to certain critical statements about recent LDS ecumenism,[1]:11 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has never attempted to join any ecumenical organizations, and has continued to teach our doctrine about the Apostasy and Restoration. However, in recent years there has been more emphasis placed on working together with other churches on humanitarian projects. This is only natural, since we no longer face anywhere near the same level of persecution from other Christians that we once did. Is this a bad thing? Should we shun others who would do good in the world because we disagree on doctrine?

There has been renewed emphasis, when LDS interact with others, on the fact that we are Christians

Likewise, there has been renewed emphasis, when LDS interact with others, on the fact that we are Christians. Since we have always claimed to be a Restoration of primitive Christianity, obviously we have always claimed to be Christians, so the insinuation by some that this is some sort of recent attempt to suck up to other denominations is ridiculous. The problem is that anti-Mormon writers have been popularizing the notion that we are not Christians, and we refuse to let such people define our belief system for us. From our perspective, this charge is patently false, when the Atonement of Jesus Christ is at the center of our religion, and we worship Jesus Christ as the Son of God. We realize that we disagree with other Christians on a number of very important points, but then Protestant Christians, Catholic Christians, Orthodox Christians, Anglican Christians, etc., all disagree with each other on various important points, as well. So call us "heretical Christians," or "apostate Christians," or whatever. Our point is that "Christianity" is the general category in which we fit. Evangelical critics of the Church, on the other hand, seem to exclude everyone outside their particular brand of Evangelicalism from Christianity. Witness, for instance, their statements about what "Christianity teaches" regarding the necessity of baptism, which would exclude Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, as well as the LDS.[1]:200


Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb: Creedal Christians can learn from LDS views about Jesus Christ and creation

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[6]

[In LDS doctrine] Matter as we know it has a beginning, an origin, in Christ, but matter as it can be, in its perfected form, is eternally an attribute of the divine. In this way, the eternity of matter can be conceived without falling into the trap of pantheism, and this possibility, I am convinced, is precisely what Joseph Smith saw, even if he did not put it into these words or this theological context.

Th Mormon Church stakes its whole theology on the coherence of the idea that God formed the world from a material substance that is not totally unlike his own divine nature. That makes Mormonism either a religious oddity in Western history or an utterly crucial metaphysical correction to our understanding of the role and value of matter in God’s creation of the world. At the very least, Mormonism presents a prod to theological thought at the precise time when materiality is more central to public awareness than ever before. Our relationship to the material world, whether it goes by the name of environmentalism, ecology, sustainability, or evolution has never been so urgently pressed before us as today. To respond to this urgency, we need not only an ethic but also a metaphysics of matter.

We cannot know how to treat matter unless we know what it is, and the nature of matter has to include but ultimately go beyond the specificities of science. We need to know what matter is for, where it comes from, and to what extent it is identical to what we are. These are the central questions of our time, and creedal Christians can answer them only in a self-critical and mutually beneficial dialogue with Latter-day Saints—and that dialogue has to begin with an assessment of the life and thought of Joseph Smith. [7]:94–95

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000). ( Index of claims )
  2. For an example, see Dallin H. Oaks, "Apostasy and Restoration," Ensign (May 1995), 84-86.
  3. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 313. off-site
  4. Brigham Young, (9 October 1859) [[Journal of Discourses/7/{{{disc}}}#284|Journal of Discourses 7:284]].
  5. Brigham Young, (3 July 1859) [[Journal of Discourses/7/{{{disc}}}#5|Journal of Discourses 7:5]].
  6. "Webb is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He is a graduate of Wabash College and earned his PhD at the University of Chicago before returning to his alma mater to teach. Born in 1961 he grew up at Englewood Christian Church, an evangelical church. He joined the Disciples of Christ during He was briefly a Lutheran, and on Easter Sunday, 2007, he officially came into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church."
  7. Stephen H. Webb, "Godbodied: The Matter of the Latter-day Saints (reprint from his book Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (Oxford University Press, 2012)," Brigham Young University Studies 50 no. 3 (2011). (emphasis added)