Sunday, November 28, 2010

An Appreciation of Shared Beliefs

One thing I'd like to publicly say that I really appreciate about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is just how much of what they teach can be resolutely affirmed by many Evangelical Christians. Most of the time, Evangelicals emphasize those especially distinctive LDS views on, e.g., the nature of God. And I'm not at all saying that these things are unimportant; I think many of them are very important divergences. But my focus here is on the high degree of commonality that we also have.

Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals both profess belief in and devotion to the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob; and to this God, we ascribe the creation of the physical cosmos in which we dwell and accept that this God is the governor of it. Both of us express devotion to the Godhead - Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Both of us belief firmly and resolutely in the personal distinctions between these three. Both of us believe, in some way, in the true deity of the Son. In fact, both of us are likely to be in agreement - in opposition to Jehovah's Witnesses and other modern-day Arian groups - that before becoming flesh, Jesus appeared to ancient Israel as Jehovah.

Both of us believe that humanity is especially loved by God, loved in ways that we can scarcely fathom. Both of us believe that God intends us to dwell in his presence. Many Evangelicals can also gladly join Latter-day Saints in affirming that, in order to have the opportunity to authentically love God, we have the gift of free agency (or, free will). Both of us believe that humanity sinned and turned our backs on God. And both of us believe that humanity is ideally destined for an endless future so bright and glorious that we can't yet imagine the half of it.

We also both believe that the Bible as originally given is a revelatory record of God's dealings with humanity, the unfolding saga of his redemptive activities. We believe in the truths it reveals about God and about ourselves. We believe the words of the prophets whom God sent to ancient Israel. We both believe that, at just the right time, the Creator condescended to take up a mortal body in the womb of Mary, and hence is truly human in at least as strong a sense as we are truly human. We believe that Jesus is the Messiah who was promised by God long ago. We believe that he taught the truth in his ministry in first-century Palestine, and that he paid the heavy price for our sins during a long ordeal ending in his crucifixion. We both believe that, in our state, we could not be saved apart from this atonement, which is an expression of God's grace. We believe that, on the third day after his crucifixion, he was physically raised from the dead, restored to physically embodied and indeed transformed life. We believe that he really appeared to his disciples, and that he then ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Ghost to them to empower them for the mission that we both take very seriously: make disciples of all nations. And we both believe that a people of God was to be gathered, and that this people will someday witness Jesus' return to judge the world (and to hold every human accountable for the life he or she has lived) and bring his followers into a kingdom of glory.

We both believe that we must repent of our sins and believe in Jesus as the Messiah and risen Lord who saves us from our sins and their dire consequences. We both believe in the importance of being baptized in imitation of Christ's death and resurrection, and in the other sacrament whereby we remember Christ's atoning death for us. We both believe that we may receive the Holy Ghost to dwell within us and among us as a foretaste of the age to come. We both believe in the importance of gathering together to meet as fellow believers in all of these things, and in helping one another, teaching one another, and building one another up. And we both believe in the importance of enduring until the end - whether that end be our own personal departure from this mortal body, or the return of Christ.

Those are essentially all things that, so far as I know, virtually all Latter-day Saints and all Evangelicals can affirm unashamed. This is the foundation that we share in common. Unless I am on some point mistaken, there is nothing in this list that would be considered erroneous by most Latter-day Saints or most Evangelicals. And, for all that does divide us - and, as I said, my focus at the moment is not on those - this is a considerable overlap that should give us at the least a solid prima facie reason to treat one another with respect and acknowledge the rich treasure of truth in one another's beliefs. For my part, I appreciate all on which I can gladly stand together with Latter-day Saints in affirming these truths.


  1. I have parents that strongly believe that LDS believers are NOT Chrisitans at all! Yet, as I read this post, I see that we do have much in common; much more than I expected myself. I don't know if my parents think their should be proof in their own doctrines (not including the Bible) that claim that they are indeed Chrisitan or not. The one thing I do know is, for instance, several several years ago, a man that was a former LDS that they met in school told them that Mormons don't believe in Christ as the Messiah and Lord and Savior of us all. By reading this post, I would think that person would be just pulling some kind of sceme. Either you believe in Christ or you don't! Also, you have me itching to know more, and in particular, WHAT divides us as Christians mostly alike?

  2. Hello, STT. If the ex-LDS man indeed said that, then he was either lying or else was just not paying attention to anything during the entire time he was a Latter-day Saint. In the Articles of Faith, which are included in one of the LDS books of scripture, the first article of faith says, "We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost." The fourth article of faith likewise says that the first principle of the Gospel is "Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ".

    Now, as for what divides us, that's a more complicated issue, and I intend to do a series of posts on it sometime. One major difference is on the nature of God. Latter-day Saints have traditionally taught, and mostly still believe, that gods, angels, and humans are all of the same basic species, the same kind of thing, just as adult humans and infant humans are the same species. Hence, Joseph Smith believed that God the Father was an exalted human being who had at some point attained his position and who had other gods before him. Now, some Latter-day Saints do believe - in contrast to their tradition - that God the Father was always God and that there are no other earlier gods, but they do still believe that God the Father is human and has a resurrected and glorified human body. They also believe that there's a sense in which the Father and the Son are separate gods, so in that sense they deny the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity by rejecting the sort of monotheism that Christians have historically espoused.

    Another issue has to do with their approach to church history and scripture and religious authority. Latter-day Saints believe that no valid baptism or other sacrament can be performed without a special sort of authorization that is passed down from one person to another. They believe that near the end of the first century, Christians rebelled against what the apostles had been teaching, and when the apostles died and couldn't get together to appoint new apostles, the church became apostate and lost the line of authority that the apostles had. Only in the nineteenth century was this restored when Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the Aaronic Priesthood to baptize each other, and later on the Melchizedek Priesthood that is held by most LDS men (but not women, who are not allowed to hold either). So for this reason, Latter-day Saints reject all other baptisms as invalid (and they believe that baptism is necessary for salvation, which is why they perform proxy baptisms on behalf of the dead so that the dead have opportunities in the spirit-world to accept the LDS restored gospel). Latter-day Saints also believe that, since the Restoration, the Church has been led by a prophet who can reveal new scripture. Hence, Latter-day Saints accept more than just the Bible (which they regard as somewhat corrupt); they also accept the Book of Mormon (which Joseph Smith is supposed to have translated from golden plates that an angel showed him where to find in New York); the Pearl of Great Price (which contains a number of pieces - the Book of Moses is a revisited Genesis; the Book of Abraham was supposedly produced by Joseph Smith from some Egyptian papyri; Joseph Smith - History, which is Joseph Smith's account of his early life and his encounters with God, Jesus, and angels; Joseph Smith - Matthew, which is part of Joseph Smith's attempt to restore the Bible to what he believed it was supposed to be; and the Articles of Faith, which briefly encapsulate LDS belief); and the Doctrine and Covenants, which consist of various revelations given mostly to or through Joseph Smith and some things to later LDS leaders. So that's something else that distinguishes Latter-day Saints from mainstream Christians.

  3. Latter-day Saints also believe that our spirits existed long before the physical universe was made, and in fact that we in some way are as eternal as God himself. There's a big emphasis in LDS circles on the idea that our spirits were the children of God the Father before the world was created, and that the goal is to return to him and be exalted so that we can make eternal progress and growth to become like him (which is frequently thought to involve becoming Gods like him).

    So those are a few of the things that make Latter-day Saints stand out from historic Christianity, although they do share many core beliefs with traditional Christians (and, in fact, probably share a lot of beliefs with traditional Christians that many in the so-called 'mainline' denominations have rejected).