The Mormon religion has been in the news a lot lately, as part of the coverage of the Presidential election. Many opinions have been presented by candidates and the news media, some of which do not agree with one another. The most fundamental question that has been raised is whether Mormonism is Christian or not. Is Mormonism just another Christian denomination? A recent poll by the Pew Research center found that 52% of American adults believe that Mormonism is a Christian religion, while 31% disagree. The Mormon church claims to be Christian, yet rejects all non-Mormon churches from the close of the apostolic age until now as being apostate.
If a group claims to be Christian, is that proof that it is? What does it mean to be Christian? This broader question is vital to answer, as many groups claim to be Christian. The first mark of a Christian group is that it upholds the unique authority of the Bible as the Word of God. Jesus said in NIV Matthew 5:18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished validating the Old Testament scripture of his time. At the end of the New Testament, the book of Revelation concludes with the statement, NIV Revelation 22:18-19 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. These verses apply specifically to the book of Revelation and more generally to the New Testament and the whole canon of the Bible. The authority of the Bible has been a mark of the Christian church from it’s foundation.
The second mark of a Christian group is it’s understanding or doctrine of God. God is the Creator and Ruler of the universe. He has eternally existed as a Trinity, that is, one being existing in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three are co-equal and are one God. NIV Isaiah 44:6 “This is what the LORD says– Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Man is a created being and can never become God.
The third mark of a Christian group is it’s teaching about Jesus Christ. Jesus was fully human and fully God. As part of the Trinity, He has eternally existed, He was never created. He is co-equal with God. Jesus lived a perfect life on earth, died for the sins of mankind, rose from the dead on the third day and ascended into heaven. NIV Hebrews 1:3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
The fourth mark of a Christian group is the doctrine of salvation. Salvation is obtained by admitting you have sinned, believing that Jesus’ death forgives that sin and committing one’s life to Jesus as Lord. Salvation is having one’s sins forgiven and entering into a relationship with God called eternal life. Salvation is a free gift received by faith alone and cannot be earned by doing good works. NIV Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.
While there are many other important beliefs taught in the Bible, these four marks have historically defined a true Christian church. Deviations from these marks indicate that the group is not Christian or has deviated from a true Christian belief. These four marks can be used to test whether a group is Christian in it’s teaching or not. An individual must grasp these truths in some form and believe them in order to be a Christian. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans claim to be Christian, while many of them are ignorant of what the term means or what the Bible teaches. In Part 2 of this mini-series, I will apply these tests to the doctrine of the Mormon church to answer the question, “Is Mormonism Christian?”