Are Mormons Christians?

What's at stake for Christians in the "Are Mormons Christians?" debate. Tl;dr: It's all about baptism.
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I’ve seen this tweet blow up in my feed the past couple of days:

You have the typical replies. “We’re not Mormons! We’re members of TCoJCoLDS!”

And of course the old, “Jesus is in the name of the church” canard.

And my favorite, the “we didn’t want to be Christians anyway” response.

Most of the conversation, however, misses what is actually at stake for Christians, theologically. I tweeted a thread to engage the conversation. I’ve included the full text below:

Full disclosure: I’m a post-Mormon Christian minister. I believe that Mormons are sociologically Christian, in that they emerge from 19th century radical Protestant restorationism, and that many Mormons are Christians in the important sense that their faith in Jesus leads to lives of service.

That is nothing to shake a stick at, and is, at the end of the day, arguably the most important way to be Christian. And besides, we’re saved by grace, not having the right theology.

Having said that, Mormonism falls outside the bounds of the religion that historically has been and is now called Christianity. Mormons tend to misunderstand this because for the most part they are not familiar with the ways Christianity functions and understands itself.

For us, an important part of being a Christian is being a part of the church–the global Body of Christ. The church is bigger than any single denomination. It represents all denominations across time and space. Mormons tend to refer to different denominations as different “religions.” But in fact, a denomination is not its own religion; a denomination is a particular expression of *one* religion–Christianity.

Christian churches recognize this about one another. We often take care to refer to our denominations as “a” church or “this” church. We don’t want to conflate our own particular expression of the faith with “THE” church, which we understand as the Body of Christ writ large.

This is why Christians recognize one another’s baptism. In Christian baptism, we are NOT baptized into a particular congregation or denomination. That’s important, so re-read that a few times if you need to.

Instead, we are baptized into the life of the Triune God, which is a particular theology of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as distinct, co-equal persons in One God, who transcends all creation, and who can in no wise be called the same “species” as humanity. There can be many theological disagreements among Christian churches on many important matters, but this is seen as non-negotiable to a church’s fundamental Christianity–because baptism is the sacrament of entrance to the Christian faith.

The early church fathers went so far as to say that even if a person’s or minister’s theology of God was wrong, if they *intended* for baptism to accomplish the same things, it was an acceptable Christian baptism.

However, Mormon baptism neither accomplishes nor intends to accomplish the same things as Christian baptism–by design! In Mormonism, one is baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints *in particular.* In fact, this is such a significant point of emphasis for Mormons that they require RE-baptism of any Christian converts to Mormonism. This is unthinkable in Christian practice.

Further, Mormons do not believe that baptism folds believers into the life of the Triune God–because Mormons reject the doctrine of the Trinity. Our conceptions of God are so different as to be, as one Catholic scholar says, operating on an “entirely different matrix.”

When Christians say that Mormons are not Christians, this is what they mean. This is what is functioning, both theologically and in practice, behind that assertion. And it’s true! Mormons do not fall within the fellowship of global Christianity as a matter of their own theology and practice. They don’t accept the baptism of other Christians; they don’t baptize into the Triune God.

This is what divides us. It’s not the expanded canon (Community of Christ, which sees the Book of Mormon and their version of the Doctrine and Covenants as scripture, is recognized as a Christian church); it’s not the question of grace and works (Christians are all over the map); it’s not authority (Catholics, Orthodox, and Anglicans with sacerdotal concepts of priesthood and ordination accept Protestant baptism).

It’s the profoundly different understanding of God and church that puts Mormonism outside Christianity (again, theologically, not sociologically), and nowhere is that clearer than in the case of baptism.

This doesn’t mean Mormons are going to hell, that they can’t have vital relationships with God, that their faith in Jesus is wrong. It *does* means that Mormonism has evolved into a distinct religion from historic, orthodox Christianity. I encourage Mormons to embrace that!

Or, if you feel troubled about your church’s departure from the global body of Christ, perhaps God is calling you to explore the textures and expressions of the Christian faith. In either case, it’s good to understand the nuances of this conversation and what’s at stake.

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