What does it mean to be a Christian? A Mormon apostle explains.

Robert D. HalesIn October 2012 Mormon Apostle Robert D. Hales spoke at the Mormon Church’s General Conference regarding what it means to be a Christian. He defined a Christian like this:

“A Christian has faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, that He is the literal Son of God, sent by His Father to suffer for our sins in the supreme act of love we know as the Atonement.

“A Christian believes that through the grace of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, we can repent, forgive others, keep the commandments, and inherit eternal life.

“The word Christian denotes taking upon us the name of Christ. We do this by being baptized and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands by those holding His priesthood authority.

“A Christian knows that throughout the ages, God’s prophets have always testified of Jesus Christ. This same Jesus, accompanied by Heavenly Father, appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the year 1820 and restored the gospel and the organization of His original Church.

“Through the scriptures and the witness of Joseph Smith, we know that God, our Heavenly Father, has a glorified and perfected body of flesh and bone. Jesus Christ is His Only Begotten Son in the flesh. The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit whose work is to testify of the Father and the Son. The Godhead is three separate and distinct beings, unified in purpose.

“With these doctrines as the foundation of our faith, can there be any doubt or disputation that we, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are Christian?” (Ensign, “Being a More Christian Christian,” November 2012, 90)

Indeed, if Mr. Hales’ definition of a Christian is used, not only are Mormons Christians, they are the only Christians. As Bill McKeever noted in the January-February 2013 issue of Mormonism Researched, summarized here,

  • Mormonism teaches that Jesus is the literal offspring of Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother (while historic Christianity, though recognizing Jesus as the Son of God, has never believed Jesus is “literally” God’s Son);
  • The Mormon Church claims to be the only church that holds God’s priesthood authority;
  • Only Mormons believe Joseph Smith was visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ;
  • Mormon doctrine dictates that God the Father has a body of flesh and bone (while historic Christianity worships a God of spirit);
  • Mormonism uniquely expands the biblical revelation of Christ as God’s only begotten Son by adding the qualifier “in the flesh,” something historic Christianity has never affirmed;
  • Mormonism recognizes three Gods in the Godhead while orthodox Christianity has always been committed to the doctrine of only One True God (in Trinity).

mormon-baptismTherefore, on the face of it, according to Mr. Hales definition only Mormons are Christians. Anyone who believes in the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, or chooses baptism in a different church, or dismisses Joseph Smith’s First Vision (etc.) is not a Christian.

Some have noted that this exclusionary list, presented by a Mormon Apostle, in an official Church setting, is a bit hypocritical in light of the usual insistence of Mormons and the Mormon Church alike that “Christian” must be very broadly defined: “Anyone who accepts Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Redeemer of the world is a Christian, regardless of differences in theology.”

Perhaps the Mormon Church has recognized that Mr. Hales’ definition of a Christian tends to “dismiss or diminish the validity of other people’s religious experiences,” something the Church, on its website, claims it does not do. In the March 2013 issue of the Ensign, readers are encouraged to “review the October 2012 general conference,” specifically noting Mr. Hales’ address discussing, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” An edited quote from Mr. Hales’ talk is provided for Ensign readers:

  1. A Christian has faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. …
  2. A Christian believes that through the grace of God … we can repent, forgive others, keep the commandments, and inherit eternal life.
  3. The word Christian denotes taking upon us the name of Christ. We do this by being baptized and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.
  4. A Christian knows that … God’s prophets have always testified of Jesus Christ. (Ensign, “October Conference Notebook,” March 2013, 9. Ellipses retained from the source cited.)

This edited list has lost every Mormon distinctive that is found in Mr. Hales’ original: No mention of Jesus being the “literal” Son of God; no mention of priesthood authority; no mention of Joseph Smith’s First Vision; no mention of a Father God of flesh and bone; no mention of Jesus being the only begotten “in the flesh”; no mention of the Godhead being comprised of three Gods.

The Mormon Church seems happy to recognize non-Mormons as Christian per the broader, more inclusive definition found online and in the March Ensign; but to be a Christian Christian – well, that appears to be another story altogether.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.

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106 Responses to What does it mean to be a Christian? A Mormon apostle explains.

  1. Tom says:

    Rikkij

    I have never heard of supposed anachronisms in the Bible that can’t be accounted for upon more careful examination. I was just allowing for the possibility for some to be there, which would neither surprise me nor bother me because, to my satisfaction, the Bible is very, very reliable as an ancient document.

  2. Mike R says:

    Tom, thanks for sharing about your journey from Mormonism ; from Joseph to Jesus .
    We have a great group of former Mormons here who are’nt just ex-LDS , but they’re
    ex-LDS for Jesus . Thanks again for your contribution here .

    Grindael ,
    Thanks for providing information about Mormonism so that people can see what they’re getting
    into , especially if they’ve already listened to the sales pitch from Mormon Missionaries .
    Many years ago I took the time to compare the teachings of the men who claimed to be officers
    in Jesus’ “restored ” New Testament church with the teachings of those men whom Jesus sent
    out to preach 1700 years before this alleged restoration took place . I spent a few hundred
    dollars buying Mormon doctrinal publications ( this was before the Internet ) and read what
    Joseph Smith and those men who were mentored by him and then who served in leadership
    after his death , up until about 1900 . Since the apostles that Jesus directed served until about
    100 A.D. , this was a good way to evaluate the teachings of officers from both churches —-Jesus’
    original church compared to His alleged restored church . I discovered that Mormon leaders
    were very explicit in describing God, Jesus etc, they reassured their flock that their teachings
    were reliable spiritual knowledge and all other religious leaders were guilty of altering the truth
    about God Jesus , salvation, through mixing their own ideas upon the scriptural testimony , thus
    altering the truth . Non Mormons were accused of the behavior of offering a unstable pattern
    of doctrinal teaching and of exhibiting confusion about various doctrines . In short this
    behavior indicated that the gospel truths of others were a sure sign of the great apostasy from
    Jesus’ church , and the gospel teachings of His apostles long ago , and that this malady was
    rectified by the modern day officers in Jesus’ church now restored . That was the message by
    Mormon leaders . What I discovered was that Mormon leaders were guilty of much the same
    behavior as those they accused others of , they even used Gal. 1:8 and Eph 4:14 to bolster their
    accusations ! Long story short , though I was leery of the claims of Mormon leaders before I
    begin my search ( because of warnings like Matt 24: 11 ) I did let them speak for themselves , I
    gave them a hearing similar to how the Bereans accorded to Paul in Acts 17:11 . I personally
    have found the Mormon people to be a sincere and decent people , they have simply been
    detoured by men who have mimicked the claims of Jesus’ original apostles , and sadly have thus
    embraced the false doctrine of these men . My prayer for the Mormon people is that they
    exchange their apostles for the ones who preached the truth about God , Jesus , and how
    to receive a complete pardon from God establishing a right relationship with Him through
    Jesus giving them eternal life with God in heaven and the fullest of blessings therein —–
    these apostles can be found in the New Testament.

  3. falcon says:

    Tom,
    I’m the one who writes often about Mormon “spiritual” experiences. At one time we had a former Mormon post here by the name of fmelo. He also had been tuned into spiritual experiences as a Mormon and even that wasn’t enough to hold him in the pack. I had long discussions via e mail with him because the spiritual experience angle is one that interests me and that I’ve studied for a long time.
    I’m convinced that a lot of spiritual experiences come right out of the soul of man. In-other-words they don’t come from the Holy Spirit. I’m what someone would label a full gospel Christian. So I’m tuned into supernatural occurrences and also the determination of their source.
    Very interesting that you chose the Bible over your spiritual experiences which you thought at the time were a confirmation of Mormonism. People go way off the track when they start trusting in their experiences rather than the testimony of God’s Word.
    We really have had an impressive line-up of former Mormons here lately and I’m rejoicing in that. Please stick around. I know after a point, former Mormons just want to be done with it and get on with their lives. I hope you will favor us with accounts of your past and your present progress.

  4. RikkiJ says:

    @Tom

    Oh wonderful, I understand now. God bless. Thanks for sharing.

  5. MaM says:

    JB,
    I’m a little late to the party, but I wanted to chime in and say praise God you’re on your way out! My husband is going through the same process you are (he has yet to figure out how to tell his family). He just can’t get over how much information was kept from him. Obviously God is really moving… it seems like I just keep hearing more and more stories of Mormons finding their way out. Anyway, just wanted to say congrats and welcome to your new life in Christ! I’ll be praying for you guys.

    “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” John 10:3b

  6. MJP says:

    FoF, you just did it to me again. I certainly don’t expect you to hit every single point brought to your attention, points made by me or anyone else. The larger point of my last post was to suggest that you only respond to that which is most comfortable.

    There could be several reasons for that, but I wonder if you see the same things we do. What we bring up, we bring up for a purpose. What we bring up is important, and if we keep talking about it, it may be useful for you to address them.

    But you don’t. As I stated, when you are receiving comments from several different people, you can’t be expected to address every single point. But like you did to me now, quite often when you do address something, you miss the point completely.

    Now, I have asked whether it is problematic that the LDS leadership has had to white wash its past. I would still like your thoughts on the matter…

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