Is Mormonism Christian?

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. Continue reading

“I would present to you, my brethren, Joseph Smith”

Joseph Smith III

In traveling to Amboy, Illinois 6 April 1860, Joseph III shared these words (150 years ago today) with the gathered conference preceeding consideration of him to the prophetic office:

I would say to you, brethren, as I hope you may be, and in faith I trust you are, as a people that God has promised his blessings upon, I came not here of myself, but by the influence of the Spirit. For some time past I have received manifestations pointing to the position which I am about to assume.

I wish to say that I have come here not to be dictated by any men or set of men. I have come in obedience to a power not my own, and shall be dictated by the power that sent me.

God works by means best known to himself, and I feel that for some time past he has been pointing out a work for me to do.

For two or three years past deputations have been waiting on me, urging me to assume the responsibilities of the leadership of the church; but I have answered each and every one of them that I did not wish to trifle with the faith of the people.

I do not propose to assume this position in order to amass wealth out of it, neither have I sought it as a profit.

I know opinions are various in relation to these matters. I have conversed with those who told me they would not hesitate one moment in assuming the high and powerful position as the leader of this people. But I have been well aware of the motives which might be ascribed to me,—motives of various kinds, at the foundation of all which is selfishness,—should I come forth to stand in the place where my father stood.

I have believed that should I come without the guarantee of the people, I should be received in blindness, and would be liable to be accused of false motives. Neither would I come to you without receiving favor from my heavenly Father.

I have endeavored as far as possible to keep myself unbiased. I never conversed with J. J. Strang, for in those days I was but a boy, and in fact am now but a boy. I had not acquired a sufficient knowledge of men to be capable of leading myself, setting aside the leading of others.

There is but one principle taught by the leaders of any faction of this people that I hold in utter abhorrence; that is a principle taught by Brigham Young and those believing in him. I have been told that my father taught such doctrines. I have never believed it and never can believe it. If such things were done, then I believe they never were done by divine authority. I believe my father was a good man, and a good man never could have promulgated such doctrines.
Continue reading

Do you get it?

Awesome is the only word I can think of in describing a Christmas celebration I attended yesterday.  It was indeed a worship service (although some there might not have realized it) involving loud rock, long hair, and shooting jets of fire.  The enlightened readers will immediately perceive that I speak of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra or “TSO.”

In the midst of the lasers and fireballs and dueling electric violins, I was struck by a verse from Ecclesiastes.  While The Preacher might not have intended it to be used this way, it was nonetheless compelling:

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has already been,
in the ages before us.
Eccl. 1:9-11 (NRSV, emphasis mine)

While there is nothing new under the sun, many try to disguise the ways in which their creations are indebted to another. Continue reading

Googly-eyed Lions and Lambs: Material Objects and Community of Christ Identity

Two pairs of googly eyes stared at me day after day as I practiced the piano as an elementary student. These eyes were mounted to a small, plush lamb and a slightly larger golden lion. Both sat on a lacquered piece of wood that bore a white-lettered sticker saying “Peace.” Even as a nine-year piano student, I was being reminded that I was part of a specific church, back then the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Objects all around my house told me about this identity—from a full-color framed print of Lehi holding the Liahona with a curious Sariah looking on, to a black-and-white print of Jesus painted by RLDS member Nida Vincent King, based on an RLDS member’s vision of Christ. Even though we rarely attended church by the time I was nine, my home was a deeply traditional RLDS home.

Religious material objects are bearers of memory, identity, and evidence our participation in modern consumer-driven economies. Before we get too dour on how Christians have simply “sold out to culture” with loads of “Jesus junk,” it might be good to reflect on why we fill our homes with religious material objects. Continue reading