Christianity is generally considered a “successful” religion because it is still flourishing after 2000 years. Eastern religions, which are generally much older, have flourished for thousands of years, although their communal success seems to be declining. Islam, a highly successful religion, is a relative newcomer at just over 1400 years. What are the indicators of success, and how does Mormonism stack up against those indicators?
- Apostle Paul. Paul took Christianity out of Judaism, broke ties with old practices like circumcision (a major drawback for 50% of potential converts), and articulated the theology in a new and compelling way, all without having met Jesus personally and without benefit of the New Testament (which was still largely in his head at the time). Without Paul, Jesus left a small band of scattered, inarticulate personal friends all of whom came from Judaism and had no rights as citizens. Paul transcended that. Dude rocks.
- Pax Romana. Because of the Roman empire’s reach, it was possible for the first time for missionaries (like Paul) to extend the influence and preaching of Christianity across the Western world. Yet, had the Roman empire not ultimately embraced Christianity, it would have likely been dead in the water.
- Theological Upgrade. As Valoel said (sang?), “Anything you can do, we can do better!” Predecessor religions did not present as compelling a vision of the purpose of life. In Greek (and Roman) mythology, souls of the dead were essentially dumped into a non-corporeal stew. Even Judaism was beginning to split over matters of resurrection and nature of the soul. Christianity presented a more compelling view with rewards and punishments for one’s life choices. Eastern religions (with more compelling theologies such as reincarnation) were not as susceptible to conversion to Christian dogmas.
So, how does Mormonism stack up?
- New Scripture. Instead of Paul, we had the contributions of both Joseph Smith and then Brigham Young to clarify the new, eschew the old/irrelevant, and to even add to the requirements (WoW chiefly, consecration & plural marriage briefly).
- Missionary Work. Initially, this also included gathering due to persecution, but missionary work has been a constant focus in the LDS church, from the very beginning to the present day. The shift from gathering to building the stakes of Zion across the world has further enhanced the effectiveness of missionary efforts.
- Theological Upgrade. New (or restored) doctrines like eternal progression, theosis, universalism of three kingdoms/plan of salvation, corporeal and living God and Jesus, pre-Christ Christology, and most importantly ongoing personal and prophetic revelation. As a contrast to contemporary (meaning 19th century Protestant) churches, these are pretty significant upgrades, many on par with the deeper theologies of Eastern faiths (e.g. reincarnation).
So, by these indicators, Mormonism is built to last as well as original Christianity was (if not better).
The wrench in the works is that we believe Christianity DIDN’T last; according to Mormon doctrine, the Great Apostasy crept in pretty quickly, in fact. So, do these indicators mean that Mormonism will go the way of Christianity? Or is this just temporary anyway (end of days stuff)? Or are these the wrong indicators?