LDS Theologians Explain Faith's Beliefs
by Peggy Fletcher Stack
Salt Lake Tribune 2-7-98 P1
jimRobert Millet, dean of religious education at LDS Church owned Brigham Young University, is on a self-appointed mission-to deflect some of the hostility between Mormons and Southern Baptists.
jimIn the past five years, Millet and several colleagues have met and discussed their beliefs with leaders and theologians from the evangelical Baylor Seminary in California to Billy Graham's Wheaton College in Illinois. They also have visited Catholics at Notre Dame and other Catholic universities.
jimMillet reasons that those who condemn Mormon theology as not being Christian should at least understand the doctrine. The theological gulf between adherents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and traditional Christians will remain, he said, but perhaps the antagonistic rhetoric might be softened.
jim"We tell people, 'Help us better understand the Baptists, and we'll help you understand the Mormons,'" Millet said. "My hope is that after people meet with us and spend a few days with us, when something pejorative is said about Mormons, they might say, 'I'm not sure I believe that or they might call and ask us.'"
jimThe matter is particularly pressing as Southern Baptists prepare to hold their annual meeting in Salt Lake City in June, during which time they plan to evangelize among Mormons and non-Mormons alike.
jimIn a strongly worded speech on Sunday, Mormon Apostle Boyd K. Packer rejected the claim that Mormons are not Christian.
jim"It is one thing to say that we are not their kind of Christians," Packer told a packed audience at BYU. It is quite another to characterize us as not being Christian at all."[editor's note--See my article, "Are Mormons Christians?"]
jimLast spring, President Mark Coppinger of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., met in Provo with Millet and Stephen Robinson, BYU professor of ancient scripture. Coppinger was accompanied by Philip Roberts and Tal Davis of the Southern Baptists' Committee on Interfaith Witness.
jimThe group discussed the faith's doctrinal differences.
jimTraditional Christians are "committed to inerrancy and sufficiency of the Bible, devoted to the Great Commission task of evangelism," Coppinger said.
jim"We affirm the orthodox creeds embraced through the centuries. We believe that God is a spirit, Jesus Christ was the only begotten son who died for sinners, and that his blood shed for sinners is the only hope for salvation."
jimBaptists teach that the Bible alone is God's word, while Mormons have several additional books of scripture, including The Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants and Pearl of Great Price.
jimThe two groups also disagree about the role of God's grace.
jimThe orthodox biblical view of grace is that "people are saved by grace and not at all by works," Coppinger said. "We do not enhance our access to the highest heaven by being wed in the temple or by tithing or what have you."
jimMormons believe that "more is required of men and women than a verbal expression of faith in the Lord, more than a confession with the lips that we have received Christ into our hearts," Millet said this week in a devotional address at BYU.
jim"We know, without question, that the power to save us, to change us, to renew our souls, is in Christ," Millet said. "True faith, however, always manifests itself in faithfulness. God works evidence our faith, our desire to remain in covenant with Christ, but they are not sufficient."
jimThe foursome met again in December in Kansas City, primarily to talk about the video, "The Mormon Puzzle," made by Southern Baptists to explain LDS beliefs to their people.
jim"We asked for their reactions to the video," Coppinger said this week. "It is a bad thing to misrepresent another group. We want to speak with knowledge and integrity."
jimAgain, Millet and Robinson objected to the video's claim that Mormons do not believe in God's grace at all.
jim"To say that our understanding of grace is deficient or mistaken in one thing, but to suggest that we have no notion of grace in our beliefs is a misrepresentation," Millet said.
jimThe discussion went on much longer than any of the participants anticipated, six or seven hours.
jim"We had a big white board our with magic markers, "Coppinger said. "We would draw a diagram and ask what they thought."
jimHe characterized the conversation as "a serious exchange where we clarified our positions."
jimThe Baptists "were cordial, but it was an intense six or seven hours," Millet said. "They were so insistent that we are not Christian that the conversation didn't get as far as we had hoped.
jimCoppinger acknowledged that the Baptists were trying to persuade the Mormons of the error of their beliefs.
jim"All parties concerned hoped that those on the other side would see the light and convert," he said. "We made no bones about it. We are not pluralists or relativists. We don't think that just any sincere view of the Bible is valuable and life-giving."
jimBaptists believe Mormonism is "wrong-headed" and "clearly divergent from the teaching of Scripture," Coppinger said. "We would like to see Robert Millet become and evangelical Christian. He knows this."