[continued from Part 3]
Additionally, given that Christianity must be allowed to define itself (as James asserts), in any objective approach to the question, Mormonism must be allowed to participate in that process of definition. To preclude Mormonism from Christianity’s self-definition is, again, begging the question. It assumes the conclusion in setting up the premise. Would it be begging the question in the opposite direction to allow Mormonism to contribute to the definition of Christianity? No. Mormonism claims to be Christian just like James claims to be Christian, and according to many Christians, Mormonism meets the criteria.
It is hard to see this argument as anything more than, “Do too!” How can Mormonism, a religion that began by condemning all of Christianity while claiming itself to be the One True Church, seriously look us all in the eye today and say, “Well, hey, we began April 6, 1830, but, we get to participate in the definition of Christianity.” Really? A religion that speaks of God living on a planet that circles a star named Kolob that arose more than 650,000 days after the founding of Christianity is relevant to the defining of that faith? So if someone proclaims himself a prophet today, and starts a new religion that speaks of new gods from new planets, that fellow gets to have a seat at the table too, as long as he claims to be “Christian”? The term “audacious” comes to mind when one considers the reality of such an argument.
This kind of argument forces us to consider the basis upon which any faith is to be defined, and in particular, the basis upon which the Christian faith is to be defined. Some religions would have to give anyone who came along a “seat at the table” by their very nature. But Christianity speaks of objective truth, eternal truth. And our Scriptures speak of the τῇ ἅπαξ παραδοθείσῃ τοῖς ἁγίοις πίστει, the “once-for-all delivered to the saints faith” (Jude 3). One does not have to close one’s eyes to the controversies of the following centuries to continue to believe that God delivered His truth to His people, and then safeguarded those truths by working a heart-felt faithfulness to the whole counsel of God in the Scriptures in the lives and minds of the elect. It is just this ability on God’s part (or willingness on His part) that is denied by Mormonism with its doctrine of “total apostasy,” wherein the LDS Church teaches that even if God had delivered the faith originally, He allowed it to disappear from the earth, necessitating not a reformation, but a restoration. As Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie put it,
Has no one read the promises made of old that the Lord Jesus cannot return “except there come a falling away first” (2Thess.2:1-12); that before that day, “darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people” (Isa.60:2; D&C 112:23-24); that the whole earth “is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant” (Isa.24:5)? Does anyone really suppose that the sects of modern Christendom-with their silks and robes and rituals; with their notions of a salvation without works and by grace alone; with neither signs, nor miracles, nor apostles, nor prophets, nor revelation-does anyone really believe such a Christianity is the same as that of Jesus and Peter and Paul? (The Mortal Messiah, 3:436-37) TLDP:30
Or as Ezra Taft Benson put it,
Following the great apostasy from the principles and laws of Christ, the world became enslaved in a cloak of darkness. This long night of Christian apostasy placed an oppressive tyranny on the minds of men, which were shackled by chains of false priestly tradition. Truth had been turned to superstition, joy to despair, and worship into ritual. ACR(London)1976:49
And given that we are talking about doctrine and theology and its role in defining the Christian faith:
False creeds make false churches. There is no salvation in believing a lie. Every informed, inspired, and discerning person is revolted by the absurdities and scripture-defying pronouncements in the creeds of Christendom, whose chief function is to define and set forth the nature and kind of Being that God is. (The Mortal Messiah, 1:30) TLDP:35
McConkie saw the issue clearly, and squarely pronounced the “creeds of Christendom” to be “absurd,” even though the function of these creeds is to “define and set forth the nature and kind of Being that God is.” So we have the odd situation where Mormonism, having begun with the assertion that all Christian churches were corrupt and their creeds an abomination, now demands a role in the definition of “Christian” itself! An odd turn of events, but one that must be noted as we consider Mr. McClellan’s arguments.
And may I point out that Mr. McClellan is simply wrong to say “Mormonism claims to be Christian just like James claims to be Christian.” Mormonism claims to be the very embodiment of the One True Church. It claims to be the Church of the Lamb of God, and there are, save, only two churches, the Church of the Lamb and the Church of the devil:
10 And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth. (1 Nephi 14:10)
Mormonism claims to hold the only valid priesthood authority from God (at least it does today: this, too, was a later development in Joseph Smith’s theology), so that it is able to perform divine ordinances in its 134 temples, including eternal marriage ceremonies and baptism for the dead. Without eternal marriage, men would be precluded from exaltation to godhood itself, and that path to exaltation lies solely within the purview of the LDS Church. So let’s not kid ourselves: Mormonism’s claim is that it, and it alone, is the One True Church, restored by divine visitation by the Father and the Son as separate and distinct personages after a long period of universal apostasy; it sees no other church as having divine authority from God. None.
In contrast, I do not limit God’s work to my denomination. I define the faith very clearly, but I do so not on the basis of a 19th century self-proclaimed prophet, but upon the basis of the consistent testimony of the ancient Christian scriptures, whose authority bears the stamp of approval of the crucified and risen Son of God Himself. I recognize the reality of God’s Spirit working in men and women who disagree with me on the non-essentials, and see a world-wide body of believers, the elect of God, united by a common confession that Jesus Christ is Lord, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and the Scriptures are sufficient for life and godliness. So let us not allow LDS apologists to cloud the issue. The claim of Mormonism is not parallel to my own claim to be a Christian. Far from it.