Part 5 of a series.
In recent posts, (starting here) I’ve been exploring how to answer the question: “Are Mormons Christians?” Evangelicals say “No” and Latter-day Saints say “Yes” based on differing definitions of the word “Christian”. Because we use the word differently, we’re really not even asking the same question.
But there is another issue underlying this debate. We’re not just asking, “Who has the right to use the label ‘Christian’ on themselves?” We’re asking a more fundamental question: “Who has the right to claim to be a true, authentic Christian in the fullest sense of the word?” Evangelicals deny that Mormonism is Christian in the ways that really matter most to us.
But I haven’t heard many Mormons admit that, when it comes right down to it, the LDS Church denies that evangelicals and other traditional Christians are genuinely Christians in the fullest sense. Its not just that Latter-day Saints want to be acknowledged as legitimate Christians. There is also a very real sense in which Latter-day Saints view themselves as the only fully authentic Christians.
After all, the LDS Church claims to be the only valid representative of Jesus Christ on earth. It portrays itself as the complete restoration of everything that Jesus originally established. Joseph Smith claimed that God told him not to join any of the existing churches, because they were all wrong, their creeds were an abomination to him, and the people who professed those creeds were all corrupt.
I continually hear faithful Mormons say that the LDS Church and its people don’t ever attack other churches. They don’t realize that the exclusive claims of Mormonism constitute just such an attack. Latter-day Saints generally have backed away from the kind of inflammatory rhetoric expressed in the First Vision account. But the LDS Church is eagerly trying to convince members of Christian faiths to abandon the churches they attend in favor of Mormonism.
The LDS Church’s claim to be the only true and living church on earth and the only authorized representative of God is, in effect, is an attack on the validity of every other church. By making these claims, Mormons position themselves as the only fully legitimate Christians, with all others being Christian only in some inferior sense or in name only.
So I find it a bit difficult to empathize with Latter-day Saints who express hurt and confusion over being denied status as Christian, as long as they continue to assert that traditional Christian faiths are apostate, have no authority to act for God, practice meaningless ordinances, and read a corrupted Bible.