There Are Two Churches Only

"In revelation both ancient and modern, the Lord refers to his own words as being “sharper than a two edged sword.” [1] In modern vernacular, much that he said is “politically incorrect.” It is judgmental, divisive, rigid, closed-minded, and all too often just plain embarrassing. In many of our instructional meetings, the teaching of ethics prevails over the teaching of doctrine simply to avoid giving offense or to avoid disagreement. Everyone is pleased to speak of God’s love; rare are the mentions of his wrath or displeasure." –Joseph Fielding McConkie

Thus begins a two-part article by Joseph Fielding McConkie at Meridian Magazine in a discussion of Mormon teachings that make many Latter-day Saints uncomfortable because they are unique to our faith and emphasize the differences that separate us from other Christian faiths rather than the similarities. How important are those differences? Can we really understand our own doctrine if we do not keep them in mind? What dangers are there to the Latter-day Saints if we forget these important differences?

I have not yet read this article, but I can imagine some of what Brother McConkie is going to say because I believe I know a bit about how the McConkie mind works. One of my frustrations as a Latter-day Saint is watching what seems to me a "mainstreaming" of the modern Church in which our differences with other faiths are downplayed in order to minimize the accusations of the anti-Mormons and other critics of the Church. Some of them say that we are not Christian. What they really mean is that we are not like them. Our beliefs are different from theirs, in some cases radically so. They are so different that according to Jan Shipps, the well known nonmember scholar and academic who has become an authority on all things Mormon, we are a "new religious tradition." We are as distinct from traditional Christianity as Christianity is from the Judaism out of which it grew. Our Book of Mormon and other modern scriptures are an expansion of the scriptural canon in much the same way that the New Testament was an expansion of the scriptural canon of the Jews at the time of Christ. The traditional Christian have a bigger and more nearly complete Bible than the Jews have, and we have a much bigger and more nearly complete Bible than the Christians.

So if we are two distinct religions, traditional Christianity and Mormon Christianity, how can we both call ourselves Christian? If we are two distinct religions, and they are Christians, then what are we? Depending on how one looks at it, we can't say that we are Christian, at least not in the traditional sense of that word. Doctrinally, we are as distinct from what has gone before us in the Christian world as Christianity was distinct from the Jewish faith that preceded it. But that shouldn't embarrass us or cause us to become defensive when others accuse us of not being Christian. President Hinckley has acknowledged this when he said:

As a Church we have critics, many of them. They say we do not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity. There is some substance to what they say. Our faith, our knowledge is not based on ancient tradition, the creeds which came of a finite understanding and out of the almost infinite discussions of men trying to arrive at a definition of the risen Christ. –Gordon B. Hinckley, April 2002

Too many Latter-say Saints, especially here on the Internet seem embarrassed about the doctrinal teachings that make us different from other Christian faiths. I feel bad for them. That is unnecessary. It is precisely those wonderful doctrines that have restored the ancient truths taught by the early Christians of Christ's day. These are the teachings that make our Church of such great value to the world, especially to other Christians. Many people in other denominations are true and faithful to our Savior Jesus Christ. They would follow him better if they knew how. We can teach them how because we have more of the truth, more of what the Savior taught the ancient saints. Because we have those unique teachings that were lost in the Great Apostasy, we have a better understanding of what the Savior wants from us, how he wants us to follow him and walk in his footsteps. What a wonderful blessing that is to the rest of the Christian world.

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One Response to There Are Two Churches Only

  1. Eric Nielson says:

    Very true John. We should embrace our uniquness, and not sell ourselves short.

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