For years I have watched a change of attitude in the Church towards traditional Christianity. I haven’t understood the reason for it, nor have I been comfortable with it. I joined the Church from a Baptist background, and if I had wanted to be a Protestant, I would have just remained a Baptist. After all, we are the true Church, the only true Church. A true church strongly implies false churches. Sure, there is truth in all of them, but so what? Even Satan worshippers have some truth. They believe there is a Satan, just as we do. They believe in keeping the commandments even though they are the devil’s commandments rather than the Lord’s. They have scriptures just as we do. And my guess is that their scriptures are just as inspired as ours even though the inspiration is from below. There is truth in Buddhism, Islam, the Hindu faith, and Judaism. There is even some truth in atheism. I do not see how the denominations of traditional Christianity can be justified merely by asserting that they contain some truth. They do not have the priesthood, revelation or prophets. They teach copious amounts of false doctrine. Perhaps of greatest importance is the undeniable fact that without the priesthood, they are unable to perform those essential ordinances without which it is impossible to obtain eternal life. In the denominations of traditional Christianity there is no salvation.
But of greater significance to me, is the fact that the attitude of the Prophet Joseph Smith was negative concerning the “sectarians.” That was his term for the many denominations of traditional Christianity. Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie, the primary inspiration of this blog, did not use the term “sectarian” so much as they referred to “apostate Christendom.” But although the terms they used were not the same, their negative view of the Protestant and Catholic denominations were in the tradition of Joseph Smith as was my own because of the reasons for which I joined the Church. I had obtained a testimony of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.
After all, is not this a passage from our scripture?
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all a; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those b were all c; that: “they d near to me with their lips, but their e are far from me, they teach for doctrines the f of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the g thereof.” (Joseph Smith–History)
If traditional Christianity had not gone astray, there would have been no Great Apostasy and no need for a Restoration. Because of this teaching, and the attitudes of Joseph Smith and the early latter-day prophets, this change in LDS understanding and attitude towards the false churches has been a puzzle to me to me and a source of no small amount of distress. Are these changes from God, or are they just false attitudes creeping into the Church?
Well, yesterday I had a thought that may have been from the Lord because I never thought it before, and it answered all my questions and set my heart at rest on this matter. A young and brilliant attorney in my ward spoke in Sacrament Meeting, and at one point he spoke about the claim some sectarians make that we are not Christians. I thought his remarks excellent. Whether we are Christian or not depends on how one defines the term “Christian.” If in the course of conversation with a Gentile we are using different definitions, of course there will be little or no true communication or understanding.
Whenever this topic of who is and is not Christian comes up, a nagging question comes up in my mind. Why do we care what the they think? There is a sense in which we are not Christians. We are not heirs to the false doctrines and philosophies of traditional Christianity. On the other hand, there is a sense in which they are not Christians. How can one follow Jesus Christ while rejecting his prophets? That is exactly what the Protestants and Catholics do. There is a sense in which we are the only Christians. So why do we care what they think? Joseph Smith didn’t. He denounced those denominations as false churches all the days of his short life. So did his successors until recently.
After the meeting I went up to this fellow and asked, “Why do we care? Why do we care whether or not the false churches consider us to be Christian? We are in this life to please God, not man. His are the only opinions that matter. He told me what I thought he would, something I have heard from dozens of other saints when I pose this question. “We want the other churches to accepts us as Christians because of our missionary work.” But that makes no sense. When others join us from a Catholic or Protestant background as I did, we are ripe to become members of the Church because we have begun to doubt the teachings of the church in which we grew up. Do our missionaries have a lot of success in baptizing nonmembers who are still convinced their church is right? I doubt it very much.
Then during the Sunday School part of the block, I thought something I have never thought before. We are living in a very difficult time for people of all faiths. Just as the other churches are being persecuted on all sides by the atheists, agnostics and secularists, so are we. The gays are mad at us, as are those who believe there can be a legitimate “choice” to kill an unborn child. Others hate us because we love and defend our God-inspired Constitution. Many despise religious tea party people because they remind the wicked that there is a difference between right and wrong. The government controlled media portray those who believe in a far more negative light than those who keep their mouths shut about God.
But more importantly, this intolerance for those who are religious is increasing rapidly. What will happen in the future? Does persecution lie ahead, not only for the Mormons but for all those who believe in God? Could there ever be another holocaust or genocide, this time not just targeting Jews but all who believe? I think it could happen. There are a couple of reasons.
First, our scriptures proclaim that when Christ comes at the Second Coming, there will be few left upon the earth.
Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall a you: and ye shall be b of all nations c my name’s sake.
And then shall many be a, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
And many a prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
And because a shall abound, the love of many shall wax b. (Matthew 24:9-12)
For then shall be great a, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those a shall be shortened. (Matthew 24:21-22)
Also, the latter-day Prophet Bruce R. McConkie and others have said that the saints will endure greater persecutions ahead than those they have known in the past:
Nor are the days of our greatest sorrows and our deepest sufferings all behind us. They too lie ahead. We shall yet face greater perils, we shall yet be tested with more severe trials, and we shall yet weep more tears of sorrow than we have ever known before. (Bruce R. McConkie. The Coming Tests and Trials and Glory. General Conference, April 1980)
If these prophecies are true, and I believe they are. Then all we who believe in God must stick together. We need to forget our differences and focus on our mutual belief in God and his love for us. For only his love and our faith in him will get us through the difficult times ahead. Those who have taken the part of Satan, with or without realizing it, can persecute all of us regardless of religious persuasion. And they can persecute us with a great persecution, possibly unto death. But as long as we remain faithful, we need not worry. As long as we keep the promises we have made to God, he will protect us and sustain us in this life and in the life to come.
The bottom line for me, and what I learned from my contemplation is that because very difficult times lie ahead for all of us, we Latter-day Saints do not want to be alone against the terrors that evil men seek to inflict upon us. We are all children of the same Heavenly Father, brothers and sisters. And we need to love and care for each other amidst all the machinations of the secular world, the crusading atheists, and the worldly.
But not only that, the Latter-day Saints are very well organized. They can do much for those of other faiths if they will let us and need our help. In some cases we can provide some of the leadership that is needed for our spiritual and temporal survival. We are strong in the Lord and can use that strength to love and serve others.
In any case, I am no longer puzzled or distressed that we are reaching out to the other churches. We need friends both inside and outside of the Church. We can help each other. And we are going to need it.