Two Definitions of Christianity

© 1996 by T.L. Hubeart Jr.

The following originally appeared on America Online's "Christianity Online Message Boards," in a folder on the topic "Mormonism." It is my reply to a very polite and gentlemanly adherent of Mormonism, who wanted to discuss the definition of what a Christian is.


Subj: D-----'s 2 Definitions, part 1
Date: 95-06-13 22:31:47 EDT
From: BasFawlty

M--------: My original point was that there seem to be two definitions of Christian.

BasFawlty: Let me jump in on this, too, D-----, because I'd like to see if you can clarify a couple of points for me. In your post of 6/11, "Are Mormons Christians? Dialogue," you state:

I propose that a Christian is one who follows the teachings of Christ and/or who has accepted Him as her Savior. I think that most people accept this definition, though I recall reading in some post(s) that this is not acceptable. . . . The other definition that seems to be put forth on this board is that "Christian" means one who belongs to a particular sect or group of sects, or who adheres to a particular set of doctrines.

You strongly urge in this and later posts that definition 1 is the one you accept, while definition 2 is one that you "prefer not to use."

I suggest that definitions 1 and 2 both have aspects of truth to them. Definition 2 is, however, largely a caricature of Christian doctrine. On the other hand, definition 1 sounds about as all-encompassing as you can get, until you realize that the same terminology is used to represent different things in LDS from what it stands for in orthodox Christianity.

What of the "teachings of Christ," for instance? We do not agree on them. For us these are contained in all their fullness and perfection in the Bible, while Mormons have "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" in the Book of Mormon, which often differs sharply with the Bible.

What of "Christ" Himself? Again, we do not agree. For does not your doctrine teach that Jesus was born as a Spirit-child of the Heavenly Father and His wife, and that his spirit-brother was Satan, who tried to become savior of mankind instead of Jesus? Scripture and orthodox Christianity, as you probably know, hold no such doctrines.

What of accepting Christ as "Savior"? As I understand it, LDS doctrine says that Christ's death merely made it possible for all men to be resurrected, and set them on the path to exaltation as gods--a pathway which requires good works to progress to full godhead. Is this not your doctrine? If not, please correct my erroneous statements here.

But if so, isn't it a little obvious why Christians do not consider Mormons brothers and sisters in the faith? We do not believe the same things, despite using the same terminology. And if terminology is your own criterion for being a Christian, why may not this statement of faith from Thomas Jefferson be as valid as any other?

I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he [Jesus] wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; and believing he never claimed any other. (--Letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, April 21, 1803.)

Bear in mind that this is from a man who actually created his own version of the life of Christ by cutting apart the four gospels and discarding various portions that he thought were untrue; his version ends with Christ being sealed in the tomb (no resurrection!). But Jefferson did conceive of himself as following "the teachings of Christ"--as redefined by himself--, so he would fit comfortably into the first half of your definition 1. (You did put an "and/or" in there, so he wouldn't have to have accepted Christ as Savior to qualify for it the way you stated it.) Do you see how it's not just the terminology that matters, but what it represents?

(continued on next post)

Subj: D------'s 2 Definitions (part 2)
Date: 95-06-13 22:32:57 EDT
From: BasFawlty

M----------: I don't recall reading anywhere in the Bible where it says, "A Christian is ...." or, "A Christian is not...." And while I am not a Bible scholar, I expect that if the Bible were real clear on this point (particularly if it helped make the case that Mormons aren't Christians), then those passages would be brought up often in such a discussion. . . . It seems obvious to me, however, that in the absence of such a definition, we'll have to rely on human understanding to help us make sense of what the Bible says.

Bas: Try reading the First Epistle of John, which over and over gives assurances of how you can know certain things about who knows God. Here's a typical passage:

1 John 5:9-13 (KJV) If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. {10} He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. {11} And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. {12} He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. {13} These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

I submit to you that this passage cannot be applied to Mormons at all. For your Prophet, Joseph Smith, has redefined everything meaningful in it: a different "Christ," as stated above; a different "eternal life" of men becoming gods and fathering spirit children to send to earth to get bodies; and so on. In Mormonism it is not even true that, as 1 John 1:7 states, "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin," since it is still required that godhead must be attained by good works. Is it any wonder, then, that most Christians recognize the different definitions of like terms by Mormons and do not consider the LDS church to be Christian?

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