This post was written by Bryan Stout; his biography appears at the end of the post.
There is an interesting exchange going on at Beliefnet.com about the age-old question “Are Mormons Christian?”, between Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Orson Scott Card, LDS writer. While I have some thoughts I’d like to share about the main issue, here I want to point out a perhaps surprising convergence between two things, one of which is rejected by each side, namely the Book of Mormon, and one of the ancient Christian creeds.
The LDS objection to ancient creeds is probably better stated as an objection to conciliar creeds, that is the creeds defined by the Ecumenical Councils, where bishops from throughout the ancient church met together to resolve doctrinal debates. We do reject the decisions made at those councils, and we reject the whole process as a fundamentally flawed substitute for prophetic revelation.
But there was another type of creed, the baptismal creed. These creeds were used as concise summaries of beliefs (similar to our Articles of Faith), as an outline of concepts to teach potential converts (similar to the missionary lessons), and as a quiz of important beliefs before baptism (similar to the baptismal interview questions). The most famous of these is the Apostles’ Creed, which reached a stable wording by the 8th century but has roots reaching back to the 2nd. Here is one of several translations of the creed; I have numbered its traditional 12 articles for reference:
1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
5. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again.
6. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
7. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
8. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
9. the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
10. the forgiveness of sins,
11. the resurrection of the body,
12. and the life everlasting. Amen.
If you showed this to the average Mormon-on-the-street, I reckon they would say they believe in all but a couple of these claims. If you go on to point out that “descended into hell” means “descended into the grave, ie. the world of dead spirits”, that “catholic Church” means “universal church”, and that “the communion of saints” means “the fellowship of believers”, they would say they believe the entire thing. We Latter-day Saints believe every claim in the Apostles’ Creed, because they are both taught in the Bible, and reaffirmed in latter-day scripture. Indeed, they are almost contained in our scriptures, since the doctrinal summary in D&C 20:17-36 echoes most of the themes of the Apostles’s Creed, and vv. 22-24 are a close paraphrase of AC 4-6.
Finding Book of Mormon passages that teach each of these basic Christian concepts is an easy exercise, so much so that the problem is choosing which ones to use. Here are the selections I made:
AC 1 –
“Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things,
both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all
power, both in heaven and in earth” Mosiah 4:9
AC 2 –
“I say unto you, that I know that Jesus Christ shall come, yea, the
Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, and mercy, and
truth.” Alma 5:48
“There shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby
salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the
name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.” Mosiah 3:17
AC 3 –
“And behold, he shall be born of Mary … she being a virgin, a
precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the
power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.”
AC 4 & 5 –
“And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death
which bind his people … the Son of God suffereth according to the
flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might
blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance”
“And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for
the sins of the world.” 1 Nephi 11:33
“Behold, they will crucify him; and after he is laid in a sepulchre for
the space of three days he shall rise from the dead, with healing in
his wings” 2 Nephi 25:13
AC 6 –
“Christ hath ascended into heaven, and hath sat down on the right hand
of God, to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon
the children of men” Moroni 7:7
AC 7 –
“And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross …
that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men
even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be
judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil” 3
AC 8 –
“I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of
these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God
unto all those who diligently seek him” 1 Nephi 10:17
AC 9 –
“Notwithstanding there being many churches they were all one church,
yea, even the church of God; for there was nothing preached in all the
churches except it were repentance and faith in God.” Mosiah 25:22
“And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to
speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls. And they did
meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the
Lord Jesus.” Moroni 6:5-6
AC 10 –
“They all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply
the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins,
and our hearts may be purified … After they had spoken these words
the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy,
having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of
conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ” Mosiah
AC 11 –
“The death of Christ shall loose the bands of this temporal death, …
the spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form …
this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and
free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; … now,
behold, I have spoken unto you … concerning the resurrection of the
mortal body.” Alma 11:42-45
AC 12 –
“Ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of
his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of
your faith in him according to the promise.” Moroni 7:41
“Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always
abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal
you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have
everlasting salvation and eternal life … Amen.” Mosiah 5:15
To be sure, there are important doctrinal differences not covered in the Apostles’ Creed. Mormon doctrine about the nature of God and Man is radically different from that of most Christian groups. We believe that God exists in space and time, and that every person is literally God’s spirit child, having the potential of becoming like him — “gods, even the sons of God”. Therefore, Dr. Mohler is quite right in pointing out that we have different answers to the biggest questions debated in the Ecumenical Councils regarding the divinity of Christ: 1) How can God be both One and Three at the same time? 2) How can Christ be both divine and human at the same time?
Those were important questions. Nevertheless, I believe that much more important were the issues that the ancient bishops did not have to debate, because they were mostly in agreement about them. There is a God who created the world, and who will hold us accountable for how we live our lives. There is a savior, Jesus Christ, who literally atoned for our sins, who taught the principles for living the abundant life in mortality and achieving eternal life hereafter. There is a Spirit who can lead us to truth and sanctify our souls. If we follow that Spirit, trust our lives to Christ and keep the commandments of God, we will be led to stand at his right hand at the judgment day. Doing this is the most significant meaning of term “Christian”.
I received a BS in Math at Brigham Young University in 1981, and went to grad school in Computer Science at the University of Illinois. I did all the coursework for a PhD, but left without doing a dissertation, to do applied Artificial Intelligence research for Martin Marietta near Denver, followed by computer game development for MicroProse. I was part of a big down-sizing in 1993, but instead of moving on I continued courting, and married, my wife Meg. After a couple of years of figuring out that two jobs weren’t worth it, we decided I’d be the stay-at-home parent while Meg continued working as an engineer for the Navy (she’s now a program manager). I keep in touch with my interests in both AI and games, frequently participating at the annual Game Developer Conference on various game AI topics. Other secular interests include science fiction and fantasy, dance (I toured several times with the BYU Ballroom Dance Co.), and astronomy. Now that our oldest daughter (my stepdaughter) is in college, and the other two going on to 4th and 5th grades, I will be trying once again to figure what to be when I grow up.