Now, I used to be Mormon- you know that right? Yeah, when I was 10 or so we attended the Mormon church until I was about 16 or 17 and then I joined the Church of Christ and was baptized (immersed and baptized for the remission of my sins and commitment to Jesus a second time no less). That 7 years grows larger and larger in my life as I come to reflect and consider and understand both my faith and the Mormon faith. In fact, I almost always look back and consider that time critical to me and my development, and I really cherish and treasure my experiences and relationships there.
Just yesterday I was with a very good friend in the Mormon church, a kid 3 years my younger who is now a PA and returned missionary from some years ago. He is a very smart, very reflective, and very open person who seeks truth and is very good in dialogue. As we were talking, I realized that in both of our experiences, we have been thrown crazy questions about the Mormon church, some comical and some not:
- “Were you born with a tail and horns?” (asked of my friend on the mission field)
- “Do they sacrifice animals in the temple?”
- “How many wives can you have?” (good question, wrong church)
- “Aren’t you like the KKK?”
- “Do you consider Mormons to be Christians?”
- “Are Mormons your brothers and sisters in Christ?”
And as I interact with some of these very funny ideas and some very sad ones (built on myths or fear or misunderstanding or lack of communication), I find that I am very defensive about the Mormon faith. I have seen very good people in the Mormon church, people who imitate Christ better than anyone I know and lead cross centered lives. They do believe in Christ as the literal Son of God (there are some Trinitarian issues I think), believe in a God who has spoken in the Old and New Testament and provided a Savior in Jesus who has atoned for our sins. All to say that I am very passionate about caring for my Mormon brethren and defending them from some of the myths and rumors that abound around them. I am not sure that Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon makes them unChristian, and so I often consider them to be my brothers and sisters in Christ.
But I’m never completely sure about that, because even when something in their theology seems so wrong I am reminded that these are my friends and that live the life of Christ as passionately as I do. I am a person who is always and seeking and always curious and always wanting to know. So hear out some of my concerns and questions:
- They differ on the definition of prophet. Most Christians consider it an act, they consider it a function. The prophet fulfills a role to guide the church and to make sure one person’s personal revelation doesn’t become the rule for everyone else. I.e.: If someone feels God is calling them to go to Israel to fight Muslims, and they believe everyone should feel the same way, the prophet provides the overriding voice of God, according to the church. Most Christians would say that a prophet is God’s voice to call out, correct, convict and transform- and they usually operate outside of being institutionalized. I don’t disagree with the Mormon perspective of the office of prophet because they believe in a God of order who provides structure amongst all of those that have the Holy Spirit. But I do wonder if the Mormon church has overcorrected in institutionalizing the prophetic task- prophets who speak the voice of God are rarely in positions of power and honor and are humans themselves (Jonah!).
- Sometimes I wonder about the Trinitarian thing. They believe in a literal Son of God who is not in perfect union with each other, but distinctly different with a union of purpose. That perspective created the amazing amount of passion that created the Nicene Creed and the now famous explanation of Trinity- of the same substance. Yes, there are places in Scripture where Jesus proclaims to others that he is from his Father or speaks as though they are different beings, but in John there is little difference between God and Jesus. He is the bread of life, the Word- he is in the Father and the Father in him and anyone who comes to him is in him. I think Trinity matters because Jesus does claim to be God, and if he is, that matters. He is not a passing mode of God nor simply sharing a union of purpose…rather he is the Word from the beginning of creation. BUT…the question I would raise is this: can one still live a Christ centered life and passionately and faithfully obey the gospel and acknowledge Jesus’ atonement if they do not believe in the traditional form of Trinity? I am not sure. There certainly are issues there.
- Is it possible that Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon are actually prophetic, in the sense that MLK’s speeches were prophetic in offering critique of culture and religion, but not be Scripture? I sometimes believe that Mormons are often the most prophetic critique of “religion” we have- it was in the early 1800’s when Mormons brought the continuing presence of the Holy Ghost (their term for the Spirit) to the fore. It was them (and others too to be fair) that claimed that God still speaks and reveals to his people. And the Mormon faith has been a truly prophetic voice to people to live wholesome lives, to remember the role of family, and the contempt of faith divisions and quarrels (the reason according to the Book of Mormon that Joseph Smith even started asking questions and seeking truth). So, I wonder, is it possible I can see the Book of Mormon as a stretch and not entirely believable but see its words as an important prophetic critique (like the Apocrypha of Catholic Bibles). Sometimes I believe I act like their words are God’s revealing critique of our modern day culture, but I don’t think I have to buy every word. Plus it seems like it takes focus from Christ towards proving or believing that Joseph Smith is true prophet. It seems like the focus of the faith may move, but that is only a concern and not a certifiable truth on my part.
- And then, what of the Book of Mormon? What do I make of it? I really believe the heart of that answer falls to how we see God’s revelation. In other words, how do we understand how God reveals himself. God gave us the bible, but does he reveal more through this book than he does to us personally, as a church, and as his body of believers? Many Mormon missionaries will ask when meeting people if they want to see what more God has revealed, and essentially will say that as human beings that aren’t perfect, we ought to seek for every little bit more that God wants to reveal. But that is dangerous because everyone who might say that has to figure out how to discern what God may reveal and what others reveal- no one has a completely open cannon. I don’t really believe that we can’t add to Scripture simply because a verse in Revelation says so (that verse was for the prophecy of Revelation only). But I think we as Christians need to be careful in adding more of the revelation of God. Does it fit biblical principals and values? Does it fit the character of God and/or Jesus? Does it add anything we don’t already have in the Bible? If God is revealing something, it first has to fit with Scripture. But it also has to be worked out through reason and experience and also with tradition (our church, our community, our brothers and sisters). Some may even say that the Book of Mormon would have been written about but that it wasn’t available or was lost at the time of writing the Bible. I don’t know that we ought to work backwards like that. Just because it wasn’t in the Bible doesn’t mean we can simply explain it away through availability.
- But what does the Book of Mormon add that I can’t find in the Bible? Care for the poor? It’s in the Bible. Concern for the hearts of men? In the bible. God’s love for all people? There in the bible, and actually that is part of the purpose of revealing himself to one group of people and then explodjng those boundaries constantly to the Gentiles. Concern for the use of the Spirit as a personal tool? In the bible. I just don’t know what else the Book of Mormon brings that God would want to reveal that he held back in Scripture. Which gets me back to the revelation question- Jesus Christ is the full and complete revelation of God. He is God in the flesh, the image of God, the incarnation of his will and purpose and the incarnation of his righteousness and justice and love and peace. Anything else that a prophet, like Isaiah or Paul or even Joseph Smith, is really only fleshing out that revelation. God does not hold his revelation back, and will not hold back.
- Other things like baptisms for the dead, the use of water and loaves of bread for Sacrament, and the roles of temples are all questionable.
Now, all of this does not mean I do not consider Mormons Christians. Nor does it mean that I completely agree wholeheartedly but do not carry the title of Mormon. But there are questions and uncertainties. I work in a place where the externals, the non salvation issues break down and don’t matter. It seems that the love for God, love for others, and faith in God’s atonement for sin in Jesus only matter when death and sickness dominate people’s lives. Because of that, I feel like I can only treat people who do those three things (love God, love others, faithfully believe in the atonement through Christ) as my brothers and sisters and the rest may or may not work itself out.
I like feedback and thoughts and concerns. Do you hear anything I need to consider? What comes to mind in your reflection on faith and the Mormon faith? I am not looking to become a Mormon, but I am looking to understand others and be more coherent in understanding my own Christian faith. Join me if you want.