In a blog post on Monday (March 9, 2015) Jana Riess told readers about the recent cancellation of a Christian retreat at which Dr. Riess was scheduled to speak. The reason the retreat was cancelled: Christian church leaders deemed that, due to Dr. Riess’ Mormon faith, she is “not an ‘appropriate’ person to be a leader at a Christian event.”
Dr. Riess says God has called her to a ministry “to help build bridges between Mormonism and other Christian denominations.” She points out that she and her Protestant husband are raising their daughter as a Protestant, and that she speaks at Protestant churches and retreat centers “all the time.” She is deeply disappointed that the retreat’s Christian church leaders characterized her Mormon faith as “drastically different” from their own and that they failed to see how (in her estimation) “there’s far more that we share, resting on a mutual belief in the Savior, Jesus Christ.”
These Christian church leaders made an inconvenient call when they cancelled the retreat, but they were, in fact, fulfilling their sacred duty.
The Bible tells us that when God calls people to leadership positions within His church, He calls them to absolute fidelity to His truth. Pastors are to preach the truth and nothing but the truth. Elders are to assure the integrity of the doctrine being taught and protect God’s people from false teaching. Here’s a biblical rundown of what God requires from His church leaders:
“According to the New Testament, elders are responsible for the primary leadership and oversight of a church. The function and role of an elder is well summarized by Alexander Strauch in his book Biblical Eldership: ‘Elders lead the church [1 Tim 5:17; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 5:1-2], teach and preach the Word [1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:9], protect the church from false teachers [Acts 20:17, 28-31], exhort and admonish the saints in sound doctrine [1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 3:13-17; Titus 1:9], visit the sick and pray [James 5:14; Acts 20:35], and judge doctrinal issues [Acts 15:16]. In biblical terminology, elders shepherd, oversee, lead, and care for the local church.’”
Dr. Riess seems to suggest that a mutual invocation of the name “Jesus Christ” trumps any “real theological differences between Mormons and evangelicals,” failing to recognize the real and deep theological differences inherent even in her simple assertion of a “mutual belief in the Savior, Jesus Christ.”
In truth, the Mormon “Jesus Christ” is not the biblical Jesus Christ. The Mormon “God” is not the biblical God. Theologically speaking, apart from terminology, there is virtually nothing Mormonism and biblical Christianity share. There are no “core similarities,” as Dr. Riess calls them; there are only superficial similarities. Any Christian leader who takes His God-given calling seriously will not fail to protect his flock from false teachers and unsound doctrine – both of which are intrinsic in Mormonism.
But what if Dr. Riess does not personally hold to the theological doctrines of Mormonism, embracing instead the biblical doctrine of God? If that were the case, should the Christian church leaders then consider her to be an appropriate person to be a leader at their Christian event? I would think not.
If anyone is unable to recognize the unbridgeable gap between Mormon theology and Christian theology; if anyone is unaware that God calls His people to absolute unwavering worship of and allegiance to Him alone; if anyone finds it immensely sad when Christian church leaders are “willing to sacrifice all the effort and expense they’ve put in to planning” an event in order to care for the spiritual well-being of God’s people – people whom they have been tasked by God to protect; such a person would not be an appropriate choice to be a leader at a Christian event regardless of that person’s religion.
I thank God for Christian leaders who follow God at any expense. May they be blessed for their obedience and loyalty to the One who called them to care for His people.