Monday, October 8, 2007

Are the LDS Christians? The red herring that won't go away

The major theme of the LDS General Conference held over this past weekend was that the LDS are just Christians, like us. The question about whether Latter-day saints are Christians strikes me as one big red herring. Back in 2000 Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, in the journal he edits, First Things, wrote a very good essay on this very question entitled Is Mormonism Christian?. My comments will pale in comparison. It is my hope that what I have to contribute remains worthwhile.

If we are Christians on the basis, not only of our Baptism, but of our baptismal profession of faith, then the LDS, according their own beliefs, are the only Christians because they re-baptize all people who become LDS. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, readily acknowledges that there are Christians who are not Catholics. We do not re-baptize them, though we confirm them in their baptismal faith when they seek to be in complete communion with the Catholic Church, as their communion is partial even prior to becoming Catholic in light of their Baptism.

Of course, we re-baptize LDS people who become Catholic. Why? Because they have not professed the same faith that we profess. This amounts to their rejection of the Trinity on the basis of the Doctrine & Covenants, one of the three books, along with the Bible, that they revere as scripture. This comes out in a particular way in D & C 130:22, which states that "The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s", not to mention their rejection of original sin on the basis of their second article of faith, which is canonized in The Pearl of Great Price, another of the books revered by the LDS as scripture: "We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression." Before we even begin discussing these points, or enter into a dialogue about the pros and cons of believing one way or the other, which I have absolutely no intention of doing (I am not allowing comments on this post), we have to acknowledge these fundamental differences and respect them. In fact, what I posited above about LDS belief is right from their own sacred books, lest there be any doubt about whether this is what Latter-day saints believe. The link to the article on the Godhead, written by Daniel H. Ludlow for the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, was obtained from clicking on the "Additional Online Materials" link from this page on lds.org, the official website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Frankly, given the tremendous amount of time, energy, and resources the LDS Church devotes to proselytizing, it doesn't even make sense- If we're all already Christians, or the LDS are Christians like us, then why become LDS? Now, I know this same question can be asked of Christians who become Catholic, but since we reject proselytizing, people seek communion with the Catholic Church on their own initiative. I need look no further than my own experience of RCIA when year-after-year twenty to forty people come seeking such communion at our parish alone. Besides, if they are baptized Christians, they still profess the same Creed: faith in the Triune God, the salvific nature of Christ's death on the Cross, His resurrection from the dead, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, one baptism, forgiveness of sins, etc. They retain this faith, along with their understanding of this God who has claimed them, who has saved them, not some other god who was once a mortal human being. For more on that, in addition to D & C 130:22, see The Book of Abraham, which is also contained in The Pearl of Great Price, especially chapter three. Or you can rest content in this summary, spoken by LDS prophet Lorenzo Snow: "As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become". We read in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, a semi-official publication of the LDS Church: "This process known as eternal progression is succinctly expressed in the LDS aphorism, 'As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become'" (vol. 4, pg. 1474). This is before attending to the LDS belief in the so-called Great Apostasy, which is their belief that the early Church apostatized from the Truth that is Christ and, hence, could no longer be considered the true Church.

So, it was this so-called Great Apostasy, this falling away from the true Christian faith, that necessitated, according LDS belief, the need for the Gospel, neigh the Church, to be restored. According to LDS belief, God was able to do through Joseph Smith, Jr. what God was unable to accomplish in Christ Jesus, namely to establish the Church to last until the end of time. This LDS belief is based on what is recorded in Joseph Smith- History, again found in The Pearl of Great Price, when the young Joseph asked Jesus Christ, who he claimed appeared to him, along with God the Father, which Church he should join, "I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that [quoting the prophet Isaiah 29,13]: 'they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof'" (Joseph Smith- History 19).

Let us not forget, however, that there is a distinction to be made between orthodoxy and orthopraxis. Ideally one (i.e., orthopraxis) flows from the other (i.e., orthodoxy). If forced to choose, orthopraxis wins every time. There will be no theology test to get into heaven. Rather, we will be judged on the basis of what we do, or do not do. In St. Mark's Gospel we read this "John said to him, 'Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.' Jesus replied, 'Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us'" (Mark 9,38-40).

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