Southern Baptists Challenge Mormons' Beliefs
Idaho Statesman Feb. 22, 1998. p.6A
By Kristen Moulton
The Associated Press
SALT LAKE City-The decades-old debate over Mormonism's claim to Christianity is gaining decibels as the Southern Baptist Convention prepares to bring 20,000 members into the Mormon heartland.
jjmThe Baptists say they hope for polite discussion when they gather in Utah for their annual meeting in June. But they have launched a campaign beforehand to educate their members about the doctrinal under-pinnings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
jimMormons, the Baptists claim, share family and ethical values with main-stream Christianity, but their funda-mental doctrines are beyond the Christian pale. And the Baptists have produced a videotape and companion workbook to buttress the argument.
jimFor their part, Mormon church leaders are taking unusual pains to stress the faith's Christian bonafides as they steel their own flock for the invasion.
jimThey decline to comment on the video or be interviewed about the theological jousting. But twice this month Mormon apostles delivered what were billed as "major addresses" defending the church as explicitly Christian.
Defending the Faith
The speeches by Elders Boyd K. Packer and M. Russell Ballard to Mormon college students were unusually pointed, though consistent with the modern church's apparent push for an acknowledged place in mainstream Christianity.
jimThose who would make films about Mormon beliefs, Packer said, are "uninformed and unfair" if they portray Latter-day Saints as outside the Christian fold.
jimBallard, speaking at Utah State University, offered a point-by-point rebuttal to those "who claim we are not Christians because of our belief in these revealed truths."
jimAt a issue are Mormonism's foundation beliefs: That church founder Joseph Smith was visited in the 1820s by God and Jesus Christ, who told him that all existing churches were apostate;[--editor's note--This is the nub of the Christian debate with Mormonism: Mormonism's claim to be "The One True Church" is predicated upon clear, repeated Mormon teaching that the Gospel of Christ was totally lost from the earth. There can be no other reason for the so-called Mormon "Restoration" if this loss did not occur. What is perplexing is that while Mormonism was comfortable with that position in past decades, today they want to be both;
jimjima. The One True Church, and also
jimjimb. A member in good standing of the larger Christinia Church.
jimThis dualitty is schezoid--]
that Christ restored his true gospel through Smith, together with prophetic and priesthood authority to perform ordinances necessary to full salvation.
jimSmith's fourteen successors in the Mormon presidency down to current President Gordon B. Hinckley have continued to claim they hold the earthly keys to that authority.
jimBible-based Christian groups also contend Mormons are not Christian because they rely on works of scripture besides the Bible. Chief in the Mormon scriptural canon is the Book of Mormon, which Smith said he translated by divine inspiration from ancient gold plates given him by an angel.
jim"Either Joseph Smith was the Lord's instrument by which the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness was accomplished, or he is not," Ballard said. There is no possible compromise of this doctrine."
jimOther points of difference concern Mormon beliefs that God and Jesus are separate within a godhead that includes the Holy Ghost, that both have bodies and that grace and good works are necessary for salvation. Mormons also believe that men and women eventually can become "gods and goddesses"
jimTraditional Christianity believes in the Trinity-that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one god; that God is spirit; that grace alone leads to salvation and that men cannot become gods. Most believe the route to heaven is through Jesus, not through a single church.
Mormon church spokesman Arnold R. Augustin said Ballard and Packer chose their own topics and wanted to equip members with ways of responding to those who deny Mormons' claim to Christianity.
jimThe church has no plans to focus resources on the Southern Baptists' scheduled convention, Augustin said. But the fact that top Mormon leaders would publicly discuss the argument both surprised and delighted Baptists and others who want the doctrinal differences laid bare.
jim"I've not seen this level of response before," said John Constance, an evangelical Christian and owner of Intermountain Book in Salt Lake City.
Demand for video rising
jimDemand for "The Mormon Puzzle" is on the rise-Constance just ordered 50 more copies-and he see the summer convention as an opening for debate many mainstream Christians in Utah have longed for.
jim"It ought to create some interesting discussions," Constance said. "The video has sparked something that is going to be useful in the dialogue."
jimOther denominations, too, have challenged Mormons' claim to Christianity. In 1995, the national Presbyterian Church issued guidelines saying Mormons are outside the "historic apostolic tradition of the Christian Church.
jimAbout 45,000 copies of "The Mormon Puzzle" video have been sold since July, nearly 38,000 of them for distribution to Southern Baptist churches, said Philip Roberts, director of the Interfaith Witness Team for the convention's North American Mission Board, which backed the video production.
jimRoberts said Southern Baptists wanted an objective look at the differences between Mormonism and Bible-based Christianity. That's why they used religion experts from Mormon-owned Brigham Young University and faithful Mormon families, to explain the faith's tenets.