Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Different Perspective of the Christian Argument

I am a Mormon and I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe that he is God's only begotten Son and that, as such, he is the Savior of the world and the Redeemer of mankind. I believe that only by him, in him and through him can mankind be saved. I have been baptized in his name and in doing so have taken his name upon myself, meaning that I try to -- although I admit I come up short many times -- do as he would have me do.

And I am not a Christian. I don't mean to depart from what leaders of my church have emphatically argued. They assert that we are Christian and I understand what they mean, and I agree. But there is a different perspective of the argument that can help us understand those people who are so adamant about not letting Mormons into the Christian tent, and to consider that perspective just seems.....well, christian.

I remember the first time someone told me that I wasn't a Christian. It completely perplexed me. The name of our church is "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" after all. If you look up Christian in the dictionary the definition is "Someone who follows the follows the teachings of Jesus Christ". How could anyone presume to tell me I didn't believe in him when weekly I took a sacrament to remember his sacrifice for me and to renew my desire to follow his teachings. The theoretical justification for why I wasn't a Christian seemed like so much babble to me.

But over the years I've come to better understand the doctrine that admittedly confused me when I was younger and why so many "Christians" take offense with me sharing that title with them. I think it would be beneficial to take a closer look at what "Christian" is -- not as defined in the dictionary, but by thousands, even millions of people.

About 325 years after Jesus Christ died, 318 bishops came from around the known world to settle differences that began to divide the Church. What they all eventually agreed to would come to be known as the "Nicene Creed".

The Nicene Creed is a pretty simple document, yet from it bishops and other religious leaders extracted dogma such as the Trinity, Faith without Works, an unchanging Canon of Scripture, and other doctrine that the LDS church simply does not accept as truth. But the creators of the Nicene Creed were pretty clear -- to be Christian you had to accept all of the creed as truth eternal, not just a single part, some, or even most of the doctrine. So for many people the word "Christian" and the doctrine of the creed became inseparably connected.

When Christians hear Mormons say that we believe in Jesus Christ but not in other doctrine they use to define Jesus Christ, they find it unfathomable. The Christian faith for many followers does not simply imply their belief in Jesus, it's how they see him and how they interact with him. For Mormons to change long and dearly held tenets changes everything.

It's as if someone were to claim they are Mormon because they believe Joseph Smith was a prophet but didn't believe in eternal families. Or if someone might profess that the Book of Mormon was true, but didn't believe in continuing modern day revelation. Not only would it strike Mormons as preposterous, but we'd be convinced that person had entirely missed the point.

Which makes me think that perhaps we've missed their point all these years. They've been saying "You're not Christian", and Mormon's have heard "You don't believe in Jesus Christ". In fact what I think they've been saying is "You don't believe in all of the doctrine of the Nicene Creed." To them it's the same thing. It seems strange because a word like "Christian" clearly indicates a belief in Jesus Christ and has become synonymous with kind and charitable acts. But it also implies many other things we as Mormons don't believe.

Maybe this is something Mormons need to embrace. We don't believe so many things associated with the word "Christian", why would we work so hard to be part of it? We are not like them. We don't want to be like them. (No offense meant.) So why debate so heatedly that we are? If we continue to insist that we are like them, how will people come to realize what makes us special. Maybe it's time to realize that even though all Christians believe in Jesus Christ, not all believers in Jesus Christ are Christian.

It's hard for Mormons to let that go. We so desperately want people understand how profoundly we believe in Jesus Christ. How real and tangible we believe his love for us is. We want the world to know how his atonement saves us, in every way, it saves us. To not be called by his name is... hurtful.

So if not Christian, what could we be called? Jesus himself referred to his follower as Disciples. He never used the word "Christian", which actually only appears in the New Testament three times. The word disciple appears...well more times than I wanted to count. So while I can not claim to be a Christian without much debate and controversy, I can claim without any disclaimer that I am a Disciple of Jesus Christ.

Of course, the proof is in the pudding, isn't it? Ultimately, it isn't what we are called that matters. It's what we do. If I am a Christian or a Disciple of Jesus, it's what I do with his name that I will have to answer to. I found the video below very touching. I don't know if this man would call himself Christian or not. But what he does exemplifies the teaching of Jesus Christ. Maybe if we could come to some common ground and understand each other we can spend less time talking about a word, and more time doing as he would have us do, no matter what we choose to call ourselves.