A Baptist Point of View of Being the One True “Church”

Bruce Nielson catholicism, christianity, evangelicals, Mormons 40 Comments

One stumbling block to communication between Mormons and other types of Christians is our use of the word “church” — sometimes at least — as a synonym for “religion.” The word “church,” as used in the New Testament, meant an assembly or congregation. (Presumably the entire body of believers in Jesus in the case of the New Testament.)  Modernly the word “church” has also come to mean the building that congregation meets in, as well as the specific denomination that congregation is aligned with. By comparison, the word “religion” usually refers to a set of beliefs about the nature of the universe. Even an atheist is a religion in this sense. Mormons somtimes use “church” and “religion” more or less interchangeably because of our belief in a restoration of a set of beliefs simultaneously with a restoration of authority.

As a Baptist once told me: “It’s the utmost of arrogance that Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons think they are the only true Church! As a Baptist I don’t believe we’re the only true Church!”

I’ve heard many Mormons opine that such a statement can’t be true. Do they really think there are several different sets of religious beliefs that get one to heaven?

A while back I came across a newspaper article that helped bridge the communication gap here. It explained that when the Baptist Church (I believe Southern Baptist) moves into a new area they calculate the number of “saved” in the area so that they know how much work they have to do. This calculation is made by breaking the population of the geographic area down by religious demographics and then applying a secret estimate for each sect/denomination of the number of “saved.”

While these estimates are, for obvious reasons, held secret, it’s easy to imagine that it might work something like this: Catholics: 15%, Mormons: 1%, Methodists: 80%, Lutheran: 90%

What the Baptists are measuring is how far away from their own beliefs (i.e. religion) other denominations are. Catholics may well be saved Christians if they, for example, don’t pray to Mary and believe they are saved through grace rather than through their sacraments. The secret estimate they apply would be their estimate of the number of Catholics that are far enough away from the Catholic belief system to qualify for salvation as per the Baptist belief system.

An entertaining example of this is in the Left Behind series where the Pope is taken to heaven during the rapture, but later in the series the reader finds out that this fictional Pope had caused a huge stir in the Catholic Church by encouraging doctrinal changes that matched the beliefs of the great reformers. One Catholic reviewer noted that the author believed you can be saved as a Catholic as long as you believe the same as a Protestant.

So while Baptists do not believe they are the only Church (i.e. denomination) that has saved people, they certainly believe their core belief system (i.e. religion) is the one true belief system.

This suggests an interesting question: Considering our universalist-leaning belief system — i.e. all religions can go the the Terrestrial (2nd) Kingdom, which is more or less synonymous with the Baptist view of heaven — from a Baptist point of view, do Mormons believe they are the only true religion/church?

Another question: Considering that sometimes Mormons use “church” and “religion” as synonyms, from a Mormon point of view do Baptists believe they are the only true “church?”

Comments

comments

Comments 40

  1. Yes, Mormons believe they are the only true church in a sense, but it is much more limited than detractors portray. The sense is not that other people won’t go to heaven, nor that God doesn’t work with or reveal information to other groups, but rather that Jesus has personally sanctioned and established the LDS church with his authority and blessing. The LDS faith believes that the prophet is God’s representative on earth, and that Christ is loyal first and foremost to this Church to bring about the saving ordinances to the world (mostly in the hereafter).

  2. This argument really drives me batty. Everyone feels it so absurd to say that there can be a “correct” belief system in today’s pluralistic society. Sure, reason tells us there are good and noble people in all religions. But good and noble people can adhere to beliefs that are off here or there. I think Mormonism holds itself to be the “one true religion.” But I also think that it is truly unique in that they have provisos that allow for all who are good in character, humble, willing to learn and embrace truth to recieve it, whether in this life or the next. Therefore, the cutting arrogance loses much of its bite. We do have Universalist tendencies and tend to claim all truth within the scope of our religion, so accepting Mormonism in a way becomes synonymous with accepting truth, whatever that may be.

    One thing I do think we could use is a sense of how imperfect our own knowledge is. It seems that apostasy is the natural state of things without revelation. We are as prone to developing false beliefs as anyone and will have to reconcile ourselves to it eventually in order to receive exaltation. Therefore, much of the “advantage” of being true religion is not there so much as we may percieve.

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  4. I was having dinner with a Catholic friend a while back who told me the story of a guy who dies and goes to heaven. In heaven, he is shown where all of the various religious sects congregate, i.e. the Baptists hang out over here, the Methodist in that section over there, etc. As they were walking around, the man asked, “Why is that section all fenced up with barb-wire around it. He was told, “Oh, that’s where the Catholics hang out, and they don’t think that the rest of us are here…” It made me laugh when I considered the parallel thoughts of LDS.

    D&C 1:30 gives the Lord’s view on this being the only true and living church, with which, He is well pleased. We could dissect that sentence and ask what does living mean? What does “only” mean. Does it mean that there are other true churches but He isn’t well pleased with them? You get the idea.

    The question the passage makes me ask myself is, “Does all truth reside in the LDS church?” I would answer that the all of the truth is held by the person who is the head of the Church, i.e. Jesus Christ, but that it hasn’t all been shared with me yet. Most of the Book of Mormon hasn’t been translated yet. There are accounts in the Bible and Book of Mormon that speak of books of scripture that we do not possess.

    I think that my not having all of the truth is more of a function of, “You want the truth! You can’t handle the truth!” to quote from A Few Good Men. Once I’m living the truth that I currently have, the Holy Ghost (the living part in the verse mentioned above) will guide me into more truth. The Lord will save me just as fast as I’m ready to be saved, and will guide me towards truth as fast as I’m ready to handle it.

  5. “So while Baptists do not believe they are the only Church (i.e. denomination) that has saved people, they certainly believe their core belief system (i.e. religion) is the one true belief system.”

    This is a fair way to put, I think.

    Evangelicals (including most Baptists) tend to believe in something Calvin called “the invisible church;” that is, the “Church,” in the Pauline sense of the body of Christ, consists of all those saved, regardless of their institutional affiliation. Baptists, however, believe that the congregational system of organization is the one that best reflects the Bible; thus Presbyterians or Methodists are less than perfect here.

    I don’t think, however, being ‘saved,’ however, has much to do with one’s belief system; rather, depending on how Arminian or Calvinist one is, it has everything to do with 1)making a decision for Christ, or 2)God’s irresistible grace. Baptists themselves are split on this. Neither, however, requires a great deal of doctrinal orthodoxy.

  6. Well, we’re in a bit of a quandary, aren’t we? If the Baptists believe ours is the church of the devil because our doctrine is so far from their core beliefs, then it’s an all-or-nothing stand-off, and we have no choice but say we are the one true church. We either claim “we have truth as you do” (which is laughable to them– and to me) or “ours is the true church and yours is the fabrication.” Of course from a Baptist POV Mormons think they’re the only true religion because they give us little choice but to take the position, either we ARE God’s church or we’re the enemy of God’s church.

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    I should have asked this question too: From a Mormon point of view, do Baptists believe they are the only true “church?” (since Mormons might equate “religion” and “church.”) I think I’ll add that to the post.

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    matt b: “I don’t think, however, being ’saved,’ however, has much to do with one’s belief system; rather, depending on how Arminian or Calvinist one is, it has everything to do with 1)making a decision for Christ, or 2)God’s irresistible grace. Baptists themselves are split on this. Neither, however, requires a great deal of doctrinal orthodoxy.”

    You are right, but I think you are misapplying this. First of all, I believe a majority of Southern Baptists are Calvinists. There are other types of Baptists that are not. Or at least the vocal ones are all Calvinists. 😛 So let me address that point of view.

    From a Southern Baptists/Calvinistic point of view, irresistable grace is how one is saved. However, what the irresistable grace does to you, if you are one of the saved, is causes you to choose Jesus Christ as your Savior and accept his gift, which is pretty much what the Arminianists believe. The only real difference being whether or not you choose God or God chooses you to choose God. (Did you follow that?)

    However choosing Jesus Christ as you Savior, while technically all that one must do, does not actually properly describe their beliefs on this subject. (Or else Mormons would qualify.) One must not only choose Jesus as Savior, but it must be a correct view of Jesus (i.e. “not a different Jesus.”) and you must not believe that anything you do relates to salvation in any way (i.e. “saved by grace alone” instead of by, say, participating in Catholic sacraments.)

    Thus effectively a Southern Baptist with a Calvinistic view would believe that you have to believe the right things to be saved.

    However, there is some tempering on this point of view. For example, a Southern Baptist with a Calvinistic point of view would likely not declare an Arminianist “not saved” no matter how much they might loathe their doctrines. This is particularly interesting when you realize that the Mormon view of how one receives salvation is very close to, if not the same as, Arminianism (though we differ in many other ways.) Thus the standard line that Mormons won’t be saved because they don’t believe in salvation by grace alone is actually reserved for Mormons, Catholics (sometimes), and JWs and not equally applied to all religions.

    If you try to come up with a consistent definition of what a “Calvinists” believes on must believe to be saved, it would not be possible. It is innately somewhat inconsistent and undefined. Books like “Are Mormons Christian?” (Robinson) are written specifically to exploit this inconsistency.

  9. Doc has a good point here.

    I think that we use ‘one true church’ due to the environment joseph smith jnr worked in where all churches competed for the ‘one true church’ label. Today this has changed to the ‘organisation capable of providing salvation to its members’.

    Then its a matter of working out what ‘salvation’ actually is.

  10. Hi, Bruce 🙂

    Actually, if we go by the disputes at the Synod of Dort, the real difference between Arminianism and Calvinism is that Arminius believed it possible to lose grace (ie, that grace was not irresistible), while the Calvinists there affirmed it. There is in fact something called ‘orthodox Calvinism’ defined by the classic ‘TULIP’ five points: 1)Total depravity of man; 2)Unconditional election (ie, that God, not man, elects the saved); 3)Limited atonement, 4)Irresistible grace (what the Arminians dissented from), and 5)the perseverance of the Saints (another point of Arminian disagreement). I actually disagree with your last sentence; if you accept its fundamental organizing principle – that of the absolute sovereignty of God – Calvinism is extraordinarily internally consistent, and at no point more than its soteriology.

    Of course, its iterations in the United States, particularly American evangelicalism, have been plagued by what Jonathan Edwards labeled ‘creeping Arminianism’ since the First Great Awakening; behind Charles Finney this type of ‘Arminianism’ effectively became the ‘choice for Christ,’ revivalist soteriology we see generally today – one that drops at least the fourth point of Calvinism.

    Further, the Southern Baptist Convention is not and has never been officially Calvinist. Its official statement on soteriology takes no position on whether grace comes through human choice or solely the work of God. Of course, given Baptist congregational organization, beliefs vary widely on the ground (ie, among various types of Baptists – Freewill, Particular, etc). However, Baptists since the Second Great Awakening have generally shrunk from at least the L and the I of the five points in favor of what they call “soul compentency” – that is, each individual is endowed with the ability to choose Christ.

    Now, the point you raise about doctrinal orthodoxy and its relationship to doctrinal accuracy is an interesting one, and one relevant today. Classic Calvinism – and Edwards-style evangelicalism – maintains that given the five points, it’s possible to be saved without even knowing it, since God, not we, make that decision. Calvin’s reasonably clear on this in the Institutes.

    However, the Reformation tradition has, historically, been more concerned with educating the laity about theology than Catholics have. It’s important, though, to recognize that strictly speaking, right belief and other works have nothing to do with election; rather, they are pursued because they please God, and are expected to accompany “sanctification,” that process which follows election. In the fundamentalist movement, this line has grown somewhat blurred, given the fundamentalist concern for right belief that you point out. However, it seems to me that their concerns are more for proper respect for the Bible, because the Word is generally understood to be the means by which God works his election in the hearts of the saved. The Christology issues you raise are legitimate, though, I think. You might be interested in this piece I wrote over on Mormon Mentality about the ‘different Jesus’ issue.

    By the way, I’m not particularly impressed with some of Robinson’s theology; I think he hews too closely to the evangelical line. I personally think that our soteriology’s much closer to the Catholics than any of the Protestant traditions.

    “Thus the standard line that Mormons won’t be saved because they don’t believe in salvation by grace alone is actually reserved for Mormons, Catholics (sometimes), and JWs and not equally applied to all religions.”

    I don’t fully agree with this – it strikes me that evangelical fear that Mormons won’t be saved is due more to the Finney-style Arminian penetration into their theology; it’s not that they believe that Mormons are not offered grace, but rather that Mormonism does not offer its believers an appropriate forum for choosing to accept it. This, of course, is not particularly Calvinist at all.

    Kent – I suspect you have a point, though there are some clear differences between the invisible church and, say, D&C 76.

  11. In my way of thinking, this is the typical problem with relying on emotionality to determined what is truth. Every faithful follower of his/her religion knows that they are right because they have recieved a witness from Christ, the Holy Spirit, Allah, Jehovah, Vishnu, Mother Earth (Gaea), Rael, or whoever the confirming deity may be. So who is right? Who has the more powerful witness? Who has the best spiritual antennae? How does one go about determining who is really right when it comes to faith-based issues when anyone who seeks confirmation from their deity recieves it?

    I see this as a cultural issue as well as a religious issue, both being intwined into the human psyche. When it comes to religious truth, it is all subjective due to the environment in which we were raised.

    So, with all the doctrines and philosophies, how can anyone say with assurety that theirs is the best? Who has the truest scriptures? Why?

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    matt b says: “I actually disagree with your last sentence; if you accept its fundamental organizing principle – that of the absolute sovereignty of God – Calvinism is extraordinarily internally consistent, and at no point more than its soteriology.”

    I should have been more clear. When I refered to “a Southern Baptist with a Calvinistic view” or related phraseology, what I meant is, “the average Joe, non-PhD Southern Baptist view amongst those Southern Baptists that believe in the Calvinistic point of view as represented by 100% of those I’ve talked to in my limited experience.” Problem was, that was too long. I find it interesting that the Southern Baptists do not claim to adhere to a Calvinist view because to be honest, my experience is has been that they overwhelmingly have a fairly modern Calvinistic bent (or at least their interpretation of Calvinism).

    But make no mistake, I don’t believe they are interpreting Calvin correctly and I don’t believe Calvin would agree with them on many points, including, for example, their beliefs on the importance (or unimportance) of Baptism. Calvin’s view (that I found anyway) was that the only time you didn’t need baptism was if you only failed to obtain it due to no sloth on your part. This is a far cry from those that claim to hold Evangelical/Calvinistic views today.

    Matt b said: “Actually, if we go by the disputes at the Synod of Dort, the real difference between Arminianism and Calvinism is that Arminius believed”

    Okay, not arguments here. Modern Arminianism is not the same as what Arminian actually taught. In fact there seem to be several strains. According to Blomberg many Arminianists today reject all of TUPLIP even though Arminian did not.

    Matt b said: “I’m not particularly impressed with some of Robinson’s theology; I think he hews too closely to the evangelical line. I personally think that our soteriology’s much closer to the Catholics than any of the Protestant traditions.”

    I would like to discuss this more with you sometime because this hasn’t been my view, but many seem to disagree with me. I just don’t see that much similarity between the Catholic view of salvation and the Mormon view of salvation. Catholics seem to think of salvation as coming from their sacraments (what we would call ordinances) that unlock or release the grace of Christ (or in some cases the Saints, I’ve always been a bit unclear on this point) for people. The Mormon view of salvation seems to have nothing to do with this, so I’m not sure why I keep hearing that they are similar. The only similarity I see is that both religions think highly of ordinaces and priesthood authority. After that the similiarity ends dead.

    As for whether or not we are “closer” to the Protestant tradition… well, let’s just say I think Catholic soteriology and Protestant soteriology are very close and we are not really that close to either. In fact, I think we’re basically alien to both.

    However, I think there are a large number of similarities to both (perhaps it could be said that we are a superset of both?) and I feel Robinson took advantage of that to build common ground. I think the similarities that Robinson emphasizes are all correct, but I think he was leaving out non-similiarities that are quite different.

    Matt B said: “I don’t fully agree with this – it strikes me that evangelical fear that Mormons won’t be saved is due more to the Finney-style Arminian penetration into their theology; it’s not that they believe that Mormons are not offered grace, but rather that Mormonism does not offer its believers an appropriate forum for choosing to accept it. This, of course, is not particularly Calvinist at all.”

    You’ll have to explain this further. I’m not up on Finney-style Arminianism and have no idea what Evangelicals would fear it. But let me just statement my mind here: whatever it is, I suspect I disagree on the grounds that I doubt any Evangelical that has condemned me knew what it was either and thus couldn’t have been comdemning me based on that. 🙂

    Update: Matt B, I read your excellent article after writing the above. I agree with your analysis that most Christians talk about “a different Jesus” with Mormons because of our non-Athanasius views (I’m intentionally avoiding saying “non-Trinitarian” because I believe Mormons are Trinitarians) and I agree with you that the believe this means we can’t be saved because Jesus wasn’t “God enough” to save us.

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    NM Tony,

    Interesting point. Can you name another religion that does in fact believe, as Mormons do, that one finds the truth about God via prayer and personal revelation? I haven’t yet found any and I’ve made a point of asking several people that seemed to believe in personal revelation. Yet all, so far, have denied they know the truth of their religion via revelation or anything like what Mormons would call a testimony. I’m not saying they don’t exist, but it doesn’t seem to be very common. Certainly not a single Protestant I’ve talked to, nor a single Catholic, believes in this formula for finding truth.

    Every one I’ve talked to, while perhaps emphasizing the importances of prayer, and answers to prayer, always explains to me that truth about God is found via reason. For Protestants in particular, The Bible is all the proof that is needed and any honest hearted person that studies the Bible and looks into Christian history will find full proof of Christianity’s truthfulness. The argument often includes an explanation that Christian history can be proven because of the miracles of Christ which caused the 12 apostles to change their lives and face persecution.

    This is the reason why other Christians think so little of the idea of praying to God and having personal revelation that the Book of Mormon is true. There is no counter part to this in their religions as a basis for belief so they usually make fun of it and use it as proof of the falsehood of Mormonism. (Such as Alexander Campbell did.)

    And yes, I know, they also somewhat inconsistently uses similar phraseology themselves when speaking of how they know they are saved. That’s why I’ve asked them about it. On the one hand they seem to adhere to personal revelation just like Mormon. On the other hand, they deny this is their basis for belief and it’s reason alone via the Bible by which they know to have the truth.

    Bushman wrote an interesting article about Christian proofs that tackled this topic and why he felt the LDS Church has, for the most part, avoided this approach. I’ll have to find it.

  14. Bruce –

    I don’t actually think Mormons have a coherent theology of sacraments. Indeed, we use the Baptist term ‘ordinance,’ which Baptists use because they don’t believe ‘ordinances’ are sacramental, that is, convey the grace of God. We seem to believe otherwise, at least about baptism, and possibly about the endowment, but then again I don’t know that there are any authoritative statements about this. Calvin is, as you say, with us here; he’s an instrumentalist, believing that sacraments do convey grace, rather than merely a memorialist, like most modern Baptists. I wrote a post on this as well you can find on Mormon Mentality under my name.

    Anyhow, on Mormon similarity to Catholics versus Protes tants – it depends on what you mean by ‘salvation.’ Mormons in my experience tend to use that word as a synonym for exaltation, in which case we’re very like the Catholics, because we believe that salvation is conveyed through receiving the sacraments of the church administered with proper authority. This is the whole reason we have missionaries, as far as I know. If by ‘salvation’ one means salvation from the Fall – ie, resurrection to some degree of glory – then we are closer to some Universalist-style Protestants. Robinson wants to make us pseudo-evangelicals – even to the point of arguing that the 8th Article of Faith is the functional equivalent of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, which I think is simply silly – but I don’t think he’s got the grounds, historically.

    I don’t find Protestant and Catholic soteriology to be that similar at all, honestly.

    Finney-style Arminianism is the modern revivalist style of evangelicalism which makes each individual responsible for confessing sin and choosing Christ as their savior from their sin. It’s what most evangelicals mean when they ask if you’ve been saved. I think their beef with Mormonism (and Catholicism) is that Mormonism does not view this act as the single source of salvation. So, I think your average evangelical is capable of understanding this.

    By the way, as to this;

    “Can you name another religion that does in fact believe, as Mormons do, that one finds the truth about God via prayer and personal revelation?”

    Pretty much all of them. Contra to common Mormon belief, other traditions do not believe that God no longer trafficks in personal revelation. I have a friend who’s an Espiscopalian priest; she believes that God called her to that position through personal revelation. This is not at all uncommon among Protestant faiths; prayer and receiving answers to prayer are stressed in all of them. See, for example, Nancy Ammerman’s book Bible Believers, documenting life in a fundamentalist congregation; she has an entire chapter on the revelation these fundamentalists believe come in answers to their prayers.

    Similarly, it seems to me that Mormonism also places a high premium on reason; witness the common Mormon practice of deriding the Trinity for not making sense. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which describes the ways Methodists come to truth, places personal religious experience alongside reason (as well as the church traditions and Scripture) and argues that all, granted by God, will ultimately come to a common harmony of truth. This, I think, is also closer to the traditional Mormon view as expounded by Joseph Smith and Young.

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    Matt b: “Pretty much all of them. Contra to common Mormon belief, other traditions do not believe that God no longer trafficks in personal revelation”

    Matt, I believe you are confusing the concept of believing in personal revelation, which in fact all religions do, with the idea of using personal revelation as the basis for knowing one’s religion is true, which I have yet to find a corollary to Mormonism in that regard. Again, I’m not saying they don’t exist, but I haven’t found any yet. I did talk to a missionary that claimed some new age religions have a similar belief.

    The rest of your discussion about reason and revelation are all true, but they weren’t what I was talking about. Mormons certainly mix reason and revelation as do all Christian religions (or almost all anyhow.) Your example of revelation for a call as a priest is a good example. Even the JWs, the ultimate anti-personal revelation religion, still believes you find out you are one of the 144,000 via personal revelation. However, neither of these examples is of finding the true religion via a personal revelation.

    I know this might seem like splitting hair if you are just trying to clump personal revelation all together. But consider a real life example of this. I was once talking to a man that was an Evangelical and after several references to personal revelation, the moment I said “well, that’s how you can know the Book of Mormon is true” he immediately retorted that one does not find out that Jesus is Savior through personal revelation! That was based on reason! You read the Bible and the facts prove it.

    In reading How Wide the Divide, it seems that Blomberg expressed a similar view that personal revelation was not the basis for knowing truth. (Can’t remember that for sure.) In fact, I’ve heard this so many times from so many Christians I’ve lost count. And yet, you are correct that they do believe in personal revelation in one regard or another. Just not in this case.

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    Matt b: “We seem to believe otherwise, at least about baptism, and possibly about the endowment, but then again I don’t know that there are any authoritative statements about this.” and “I don’t find Protestant and Catholic soteriology to be that similar at all, honestly.” and “believing that sacraments do convey grace.”

    Is there a way I can contact you about this off line? It’s too complex a subject to go back and forth on via this forum. I am very interested in picking your brain because yo are obviously knowledgeable.

    As I said before, I do not understand Mormon soteriology as being “ordinances convey grace.” I have certainly never heard this taught. The only possible way I could derive this from Mormonism is the concept that at Baptism sins are washed away. But there is more than one way to think of this than as a Catholic style conveying of Grace. And outside of that one example, I’ve never heard anything even remotely suggesting it.

    Let me use a more specific example: what is the Mormon equivalent to the Catholic last rite? We don’t have one. Why? Because the last rite makes perfect sense in Catholism. You need to get grace one more time before you die to be sure all sins are accounted for. Mormon theology has asolutely no equivalent notion and so we don’t have a last rite.

    “I don’t actually think Mormons have a coherent theology of sacraments.”

    I’m not sure what you mean here. Mormons believe ordinances are performed via priesthood and convey upon the partaker a convenant with God. This is pretty coherent to me. What was non-coherent about it?

    I suppose I would have to agree that we don’t systemitize our theology to the philosophical level that other religions do. And maybe this is what you meant. Or maybe you were refering to the fact that there is a lot of cultural bagage surrounding our ordinance theology that is conflicting or maybe even contradictory and borrowed from other religions. You will have to clarify what you meant.

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  18. Hey, Bruce – no problem.

    On reason and faith – this is somewhat complicated, and it has to do with the ways evangelicals understand what truth is. The Bible (and I’m really talking fundamentalists here) is the complete and coherent Word of God itself; it’s tangible. Thus, it is something separate from personal religious experience. On the other hand, the experience of justification itself is, I think, similar to the experience of confirming Moroni’s promise that the Book of Mormon is true – it is a confirmation by the Holy Spirit that one is a member of the invisible church; it is the gift of faith.

    On ordinances – the covenant idea is an important one, I think. But are covenants salvific? There are unanswered questions here, I think.

    On specific sacraments, it’s true that Mormons do not have a last rite. But we do, of course, have a procession of sacraments that allow one to grow in grace as they move through their lives, right? This is not so dissimilar to Catholics. And indeed, it’s quite unlike how Protestants conceive of the same concepts.

  19. “Can you name another religion that does in fact believe, as Mormons do, that one finds the truth about God via prayer and personal revelation?”

    I’d have to say that there was a time that most religions did not believe this and even considered it blasphemous. It has been one of the more interesting developments.

    When my dad had his audience with the Pope and asked about God speaking to men he was told that there was no revelation, which fit what he was told at the Athens embassy. The LDS Church was an astounding revelation to him.

    Nowdays I seriously doubt he would have found the same contrast.

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    >>> On the other hand, the experience of justification itself is, I think, similar to the experience of confirming Moroni’s promise that the Book of Mormon is true – it is a confirmation by the Holy Spirit that one is a member of the invisible church; it is the gift of faith.

    This I can agree with. These two seem very similar. Incidently, I have no reason to doubt their personal revelatory experience in this regard.

  21. “For Protestants in particular, The Bible is all the proof that is needed and any honest hearted person that studies the Bible and looks into Christian history will find full proof of Christianity’s truthfulness.”

    That may be true for several of the Protestant denominations. However, having been affiliated with the evangelical movement in my youth (Potter’s House, Church of God of Prophecy, and Light and Truth Ministries), I know for a fact they rely on spiritual witnesses for truth confirmation. Many believe in the spiritual gifts, hence the name of Pentecostal. “Proof” of their conversion and their testimony is merely a semantical argument. Simply because they do not refer to the Mormon phraseology does not negate the idea that they believe in a spiritual witness of truth. As far as other religions, they likewise feel an affinity to their deity as a result of miracles they believe have been performed by their holy men, yogis, idols, what have you. Again, simply because they didn’t receive the spiritual wisdom/confirmation in the traditional Mormon sense does not exempt them from having actually experienced a strong emotional experience that they can connect to deity. A member of the other church or religion may, as you said, consider you deceived because you did not share the glories of God in the way he/she did. Your witness/revelation was not done on their terms, so how would know if their “testimony” isn’t stronger than yours. Again, this is all a subjective argument because feelings cannot be compared and certainly not on the basis of one another’s cultural paradigms.

    Many claim to have truth or The Truth, but how can any really know based on an emotionally interpreted sensation/thought/vision/experience? Each person has their own way of discerning their individual truth as has been witnessed numerous time on this very board. What others hold as opinion or even apostasy is simply another person’s perception of their truth.

    As an agnostic, I still have “spiritual” moments. I do not claim that they are deity, but they are special experiences to me. Most of my experiences have happened outside the realm of religion, even in my most believing of days as a faithful member. Because I do not associate them with a god make them any less relevant to me?

    Furthermore, what about those who have prayed about the Book of Mormon and did not receive a testimony? Did they do something wrong? Did they not follow the formula correctly? Maybe if they did feel something, it wasn’t as powerful as the witness they received while in their Pentecostal congregation, Catholic mass, snake-handling, or midday prayer, etc.

    I think that the subjectivity of a religious truth claim is too great for any one church to say they have it all.

  22. Bruce,
    I guess I am a different Doc, never saw Yahoo answers. NM Tony has an interesting point about someone who may pray and not get an answer. It seems our claim to being the Lord’s Church is one of authority. My personal view is that the Lord gives us what we will tolerate in coming unto him. If the collapse of distance from God that our view gives is too much, I think people may be guided down another path, One they can stomach. As God is the Father of all of us, it makes sense that he would at least try to guide all men toward him as they will let him.

  23. I would think that the claim of being the “One, True Church” is an internal one more than external. The LDS Church does claim that all authority, all ordances and all truth (revealed and not revealed) is embodied in the LDS Church. We do not claim that other churches are devoid of truth, just lacking in total.

    Aaron’s comment above this also speaks to the issue of “God is on our side.” Isn’t God on everyone’s side?

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    NM Tony,

    I think you make a thoughtful point that deserves a bit more attention. (Looks like others beat me to this.)

    I think you might be reacting somewhat to the Mormon cultural view that the LDS Church is the Church God wants all to be a part of in this life and that only they receive revelation.

    After years of studying this, I’m convinced that idea is non-scriptural and I think the facts of reality, as you pointed out, show it to not be true.

    I look over your examples of other religions receiving anwsers to prayers and I see this as consistent with what Mormon doctrine actually teaches: that God is a God of love and will answer all sincere prayers – ask and ye shall receive; Seek and ye shall find. There seem to be no limits at all on this statement. Stephen Marsh recently did an excellent post on how God does indeed answer all prayers.

    From the examples you refer to, I see no reason to believe they are not receiving answers to their prayers. I believe Yogi’s do contact deity and do perform miracles via His power if needed. I believe this is true of all religions. And I belive God confirms all truth, so I fully expect all people to receive confirmation of the truths of their religion.

    Perhaps the only caution I might have is with your example of pentecostalism. I only have experience with inner city pentecostalism, but I had concerns over what amounted to demands of a certain sign (speaking in tongues). This isn’t he same as praying and letting God lead and is counter to good discernment.

    I should probably note that if there is a God, he would give agnostics experiences with Himself as well.

    But of course science would have no way of knowing if the mind originated it, or if the mind received it. So one could always make the case it was just in one’s mind.

    >>> If the collapse of distance from God that our view gives is too much, I think people may be guided down another path, One they can stomach.

    Doc, this is an interesting point. It strange, but I’ve had the same thought. I think culturally we Mormons have been made to feel that God will call everyone to be in the Mormon church, but this really makes no sense at all. I’ve known too many Evangelicals that tell me that they have no interest in becoming a god even if such a thing is available to them. Why would God force them into something they have no interest in? It would make no sense. So doesn’t it stand to reason that they have in fact been called to the very religion they are in? Anyhow, just a thought.

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  26. Bruce,

    Thank you for your response. What I see is a bit of a conundrum for God if he answers all truth-seeking prayers of a believer as having truth regardless of religion. If the church does in fact have the saving ordinances that allow an individual to enter in to the highest degree of glory, isn’t it unfair to have you faith confirmed in a less than salvatory church/religion? If an individual has received the confirmation that their truth is The Truth, what need do they have to search out more? In essence, by confirming the faith of a “less true” church believer, God is most likely condemning that person to a lower sphere of existence. Truthfully, how many who are active in their church are willing to change their views and religion? I think the percentage of LDS converts in this category is extremely low.

    Furthermore, if God is working miracles through others who have a dramatically differing worldview than what is accepted by Christianity and the Christian God, what does that say about said deity? Does this not then perpetuate their disillusion? Are they not then confirming that their religion is true in all that it contains, just as we claim that all we have is truth? Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Paganism, Shintoism, and a host of other religions have ceremonies and rituals that they deem necessary for entering or obtaining their idea of bliss. If those ideas are confirmed to those believers by the same or similar feelings as the LDS experience, then where is the justice in this deception?

    Next, how can we say that -they- can only receive the truth -they- are ready for? Perhaps it is the LDS or Christian population that is not ready for the teachings of Buddhism or insert religion name here. Who is to say that our cultural paradigm is more in tune with deity than those of other cultures?

    Finally, I think that you continue to use the Mormon cultural paradigm that personal revelation and prayer is the end all be all of confirmation. Again, having grown up as a Pentecostal, I can tell you that for them a spiritual witness is their interpretation of revelation. They will then witness of Christ, which is a sharing of their testimony. I cannot tell you how others receive all their spiritual manifestations, but apparently it is enough for them to maintain their belief system regardless of what others may tell them. These other religions may not view the religious experience through the same cultural goggles and have the same concepts of revelation, but they do have confirmations of their faith as being a true and worthy faith, and one that will lead them to bliss in the life to come. What we call exaltation, another may call enlightenment. Others do not share the LDS standard of salvation, but neither is their standard shared by the LDS.

  27. I suggested on my blog a few weeks ago that the word for “church” might have originated in times much older than the New Testament, the origin of which might be interesting to Latter-day Saints. The word’s etymology has been explained as coming from the Middle English chirche or kirke from the Old English cirice from the Greek circe. This is the same origin of our modern English word circle. I explained what the reason for this might be:

    …because of the practice of the earliest worshipers gathering in a circle to “dance the Davidic dance” or when “priests and priestesses gathered in a ‘circle’ to worship” the sun-goddess Circe. The assemblage of Roman worshipers under Constantine became known as “the circle” because of this practice, and such a group of worshipers thus came to be rendered as church in our modern English Bible. One commenter even believes the origin of the word church refers to the “‘inner circle’ of the Babylonian Mystery Religion”, or in other words, that select group that was initiated into the mysteries or sacred rites.

    The parallels with the early Christian practice of the prayer circle and initiation rites come to mind.

    Do Mormons believe they are the only true religion/church? I think it depends on if you are looking at it from the viewpoint of salvation. Is this the only church which possesses the authority of the priesthood to exalt mankind? Yes. But many people will live their entire lives in a wide array different religions and pass into the next life where they will then have the gospel taught to them and the vicarious work of the temple done for them and have every opportunity to reach exaltation in the celestial kingdom as do faithful Latter-day Saints. In this sense, you do not have to die as a Latter-day Saint to reach exaltation. Most of the work we do in the temples is for people who lived their entire lives in a different faith. God will give one good chance for all mankind to accept or reject His gospel, whether here or in the spirit world.

  28. Individuals from all faiths use different methods to justify their beliefs, whether or not their institution has a prescribed method. Of course this also includes Mormons.

    Some have a mystical/spiritual experience and interpret that as a confirming witness or negative sign from deity (whether or not they specifically asked for it). Some see certain coincidences as divine guidance or interference. Some just like their tradition, or feel welcomed by friends or family. Some think that they have arrived at the most logical conclusion through great intellectual effort. To others it “just makes sense”, and they can’t quite put their finger on it, (or don’t try, or don’t care).

    As far as a spiritual confirmation goes, there seems to be this idea that all prayers are answered, but either people aren’t asking specific enough questions or are asking the wrong ones. So if they used the correct formula, would they all come to a similar answer? (let’s say they are all “ready for it” of course). Who is to say which formula or which set of questions is correct?

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    NM Tony,

    You bring up a lot of good points. I’m afraid I don’t have time to answer them all right now, so I’ll have to get back to you later. (Maybe even in a few days, I’m afraid. Or maybe I’ll just have to include my answer in future posts or something. Truth is, a full answer to your questions would take quite a bit of writting because of the depth of the questions and their serious nature.)

    I will say this much, I think about questions like this all the time. My “answers” to these questions are probably somewhat non-orthodox and thus I don’t claim they represent the LDS Church as a whole. But I’ll give you just one example to suggest my approach to this problem:

    >>> Furthermore, if God is working miracles through others who have a dramatically differing worldview than what is accepted by Christianity and the Christian God, what does that say about said deity? Does this not then perpetuate their disillusion? Are they not then confirming that their religion is true in all that it contains, just as we claim that all we have is truth.

    To me, the first question is “are they disillusioned?” I guess I’m assuming not. They have received what they have been given and will be judged by it. I see no shame or unfairness in this.

    Is receiving a confirmation of truth going to be taken as a confirmation in all that their religion contains? (Or more specifically, will it be taken as a confirmation that they should not seek any truth elsewhere?) Maybe it will be taken that way, maybe not. I assume some people would be one way and some another and that this choice represents who they are and is thus a basis for God’s judgement. Furthmore I see neither choice as particularly bad. And we are all probably some of both.

    There seems to be an underlying assumption in your questions that if a person starts to believe in their religion when in fact the saving ordinances were in another religion that this means they are screwed. But I suppose I don’t interpret Mormon doctrine that way at all. It seems to me that the Mormon view of deity/salvation is that everyone gets to eventually find out about all truths and accept them (including Mormons) as fast as they can bear them. And no one is ever denied ordiances, not even after death.

    So presumably most truths (and most ordinances?) must be received primarily in the next life for all of us. I don’t, for a moment, believe I have all truth and I suspect there are many hard ones ahead for me. Thus I start with the idea that what we see here in this life is non-representative of God’s full methods.

    So to me God has no condundrum. He just isn’t solving it all here. But since I can only judge his performance by what I see here, I will never really understand. It’s like trying to judge what an ocean is like by playing on the beach to me.

    Now you might ask “well, how will God solve it then?” Frankly, I’m not sure. But I can easily imagine a number of different ways.

  30. Thanks again, Bruce. I don’t expect concrete answers (and it would be unfair of me if I did) when giving this line of questioning. I just aim for critical thinking and honest inquiry. I find it pleasantly challenging to discuss these things because you or someone else may have an astute answer or observation that will not occur to me. I think you have a much more progressive outlook than most when it comes to religious truth claims and abiding by the truth each holds, and I admire that. Furthermore, I admire the fact that you are willing to say “I don’t know” or “I’m unsure.” This tells me that you have intellectual integrity and aren’t willing to give me a pat answer in an attempt to prove a point or obfuscate. We may disagree on certain spiritual matters, but what a boring world if everybody agreed, as the cliche goes.

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  32. Pingback: Does God Lead People to Other Churches? « Grace for Grace

  33. Are you…Really saved? Can you…afford to be wrong??? Please read trulysaved.blogspot.com. Thanks & Blessings!

  34. Pingback: What is “The Church”? at Mormon Matters

  35. Hi there, I am a Baptist here in the Philippines … i believe that Mormons can’t be called the TRUE church because of the teaching that they have . According to what I learned and read…they are CULT.
    THEY ARE AGAINTS WHAT’S THE TRUE CHURCH DOCTRINE…

    baptist is one of the true church and the special events is THE ONLY BRidE of Christ

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