What do Mormons believe?
I am a Chuck Colson fan. Colson is the former Nixon aid who was “Born Again,” started a prison ministry, and who now writes the most interesting commentaries — reflections on the news from a Christian perspective. It is hard to disagree with someone with whom you find so agreeable. But recently Colson has made comments questioning whether or not the religion of Mitt Romney, Republican candidate for president, is a Christian religion. Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Colson has written, “Mormonism either affirms historic Christianity, or it doesn’t. Since it doesn’t, it can’t call itself Christianity.”
In Colson’s view “ historic Christianity” is the whole of “ Christianity.” This is like saying that “ the ocean is blue.” It is true, except where it isn’t true. There are plenty of places where the ocean looks brown. (Have you ever been swimming at Tybee Beach, just south of Savannah? The water is definitely brown.) There have always been groups of Christians who stood outside of the mainstream. This is due in part from the fact that Christianity existed for hundreds of years prior to their being a mainstream. The term “Christian” was first used at Antioch at about 50 AD. (See Acts 11:26). But the first Church Council was not until 325 A.D. — the Council of Nicaea. And as you might expect, not everyone agreed with the Council decisions. Did they cease being Christians? No. What they became was unorthodox Christians, or “ heretics.”
Unorthodox Christians have made great contributions to Christian thought. Pelagius was labeled a heretic, but his debates with Augustine were the first place that freewill and predestination were argued. Augustine taught predestination; Pelagius taught freewill. Augustine won the debate and Pelagius was labeled a heretic.
Which do you think was right?
Another person was labeled a heretic for posting 99 disagreements with church practice and theology to the doors of a church in Wittenberg, Germany. Heretic or not, Martin Luther said, “ Here I stand and I can do no other.”
Colson needs to realize that Christianity is broader than the mainstream. Christianity benefits from divergent points of view. The lowest moments, the “ dark ages” in the history of church were when conformity was mandatory and the heretics were burned.
Mormonism certainly represents a different point of view. It questions ideas that most Christians hold to be unquestionable — like the very nature of the Trinity.
The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, was martyred, and there seems to be an undercurrent of hostility toward Mormons still today. This should not be the case.
While I think that Mormons would have a clearer picture of reality if they become more orthodox or “ historical,” like an artist trying to paint a sunrise from inside a house with the window shades drawn would benefit from going outside, or at least opening the blinds; yet, even as they are, Mormons have some light. They read the Bible. They have a high view of Christ. We probably agree on what is essential.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “ If you confess with your mouth, ‘ Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” ( Romans 10: 9). By Paul’s definition, Mormons are Christians.
What would Jesus say? In the last parable that Jesus gives in the gospel of Matthew ( Matthew 25: 31- 46), Jesus says that someday he will return to judge the world, dividing humanity like a shepherd divides sheep from goats. In the story, you want to be a sheep; they end up in paradise. The goats don’t. What makes the sheep, sheep?
Jesus said, “ I was hungry you gave me food. I was thirsty; you gave me something to drink. I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless and you provided shelter. I was sick or in prison and you visited me.”
According to Jesus, Christianity, real Christianity, is defined by acts of compassion.
Instead of focusing so much on what Mormons believe, we ought to ask, how do they live? According to Christ, this is what Christianity is all about.