I’d like to revisit the theme of the most recent Restoration Studies, while keeping my comments largely to the LDS Church (although with obvious implications for Community of Christ).
For most Mormons, to be “Christian” means being a believer in Christ. But orthodox Christianity has higher standards, not unlike the standard of “the one true church” of the Latter-day Saints: Christian churches are true expressions of salvation through Christ; and to admit a church into this elite category requires recognition that it falls within the doctrinal, spiritual, and sacramental traditions of the universal church, handed down and preserved from Christ to the apostles, the apostles to the bishops, and the bishops to the present-day. Before being recognized as part of this “one true church,” Christians are as exclusionary as Mormons, for, for both groups, salvation is on the line.
Regarding the lineage and genealogy of the Christian tradition, Mormons reject most of it as apostate. Most believing Mormons believe, however, that–in addition to believing in Christ–they ought to be recognized as Christian because they are true successors to the primitive, pristine first-century church. They are not the first Primitivists to do so: many Baptists, the Stone Campbell movement (Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, etc.), and others made similar claims about being the New Testament church restored; yet, importantly, none fell outside of doctrinal, spiritual, and sacramental traditions of the universal church, though they didn’t always honor the creeds or lineage.
Mormons, however, didn’t seek to restore the church through reading Acts like other Primitivists: theirs was a revelatory restoration—a recovery that wasn’t afraid to go beyond the doctrinal, spiritual, and sacramental footprint of the Bible or Christian church. As such, they not only eschewed the traditions as being apostate, but they recreated basic Christian tenets and practices, and added to them, until they were unrecognizable as expressions of salvation to the orthodox Christian body. That is, unlike other Primitivists, they pushed Primitivism beyond traditional Christian boundaries.
To claim to be Christian, while simultaneously claiming the rest of Christianity is apostate, is not likely to succeed in being welcomed to the club. The irony of all of this is like a city condemning a building while simultaneously planning on housing its offices therein–irony except for the planned and massive renovation that makes the building unrecognizable to its previous tenants. Mormons do not concede that, should mainstream Christianity recognize Mormonism as a true expression of salvation through Christ, it would then seriously undermine the very things that define who they are and what Christianity is.
On one hand, Mormons are at a loss to understand why they are not accepted as Christians; on the other, and without seeing any hypocrisy, many Mormons deny that polygamists or fundamentalists should be called “Mormon.” That is, the mainstream Mormon is unwilling to do for the heterodox Mormon what they demand mainstream Christianity should do for their heterodox form of Christianity. In both instances, recognition would mean a pollution of what they hold as the “one true church” and confusion regarding the only way to Christ and salvation.
Fundamentalist Mormons aside, claiming to be Christian while simultaneously claiming Christianity fallen is a sort of necessary dissonance for the average Mormon. And the resistance by many Christians to calling Mormons “Christian” is necessary to the corporate Mormon psyche and worldview. In fact, should mainstream Christianity admit Mormons into their fold, something would need to be, or would soon become seriously wrong for both groups and their supposed amalgam, at least as presently constituted.
For the sake of space, I will allow those commenting to conjecture on where Community of Christ fits in all of this, especially in its evolving sense of identity and calling. Your thoughts?