Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Are Mormons necessary?

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I am not a Mormon, however I believe that Mormons bears signs of being 'a people' who have been blessed by God.

By 'blessed by God' I  mean that - somewhat as the ancient Jews had a role in the scheme of salvation for Mankind - so do Mormons have some such role.

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And that role is to bear Christian witness to the core importance of marriage and family.

I suspect that Mormons were inspired, created and sustained to carry this message for and to the Christian world through times when it was first neglected, then brought under ever-greater attack.

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In other words, I think that this element at least was divinely-inspired in Joseph Smith and the other founders of Mormonism; and the faithfulness to this message of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (including the later revelation, or clarification, that marriage must be monogamous) has been the reason why the Mormons have grown and thriven; until now when they are the only large Christian denomination in the West which has an average of significantly more than two children per woman.

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(Consider - all other Christian denominations in the West have in practice embraced willed sterility; since the other examples of fertile Christians - like the Amish - are not part of the West. This unique witness in actuality, strikes me as a fact of huge significance.) 

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Furthermore, Mormons display what is generally regarded as the highest average level of good behaviour of any large group in the West.

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For me, these facts - plus the fact that this continues after 180 years, or eight generations; means that Mormonism is essentially-true and essentially-good - despite all that can be said about its theological concreteness, simplifications, errors and/ or incompleteness; its faults and its limitations; and the fact that like any human thing in this world it is fallen and corrupt.

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All that can be said against the Mormon people is overwhelmed by the vital nature of the core message they carry and exemplify, concerning the centrality of marriage and family to Christian life; a message which happens to be the single most important and urgent thing that the modern world needs to know.

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17 comments:

AlexT said...

This may be true today, but that's not how it started. Polygamy was Joseph Smith's starting point, and our family values were forced on them by the Protestant establishment of the time. Granted, this could simply be the way the Holy Spirit decided to do it, and to give credit where it is due, the Mormons have been exemplary ever since. However i think you underestimate just how awful their theology really is.
Having said that, i do admire and respect them immensly. I make it a point to chat to every Mormon missionary i see and give him some encouragment. They really are lovely people.

bgc said...

@Alex T - Careful reading of my posting shows that I am not endorsing everything about Mormonism - just as I would never dream of endorsing everything (or even most things) about my own Anglican denomination, or Roman Catholicism, or Eastern Orthodoxy - or anything else.

ALL actually existing Christian denominations (without any exception) are deeply flawed, defective, incomplete, distorted, contain extra additions and unjustified deletions and prohibitions.

NO actually existing Christian denominations (without ny exception) deserve - or could Christianly be given - unconditional support or obedience.

And I don't really see how it could be otherwise - at this stage in human history.

I know quite a lot about Mormons and have read quite a lot of Mormon theology and scriptures (also quite a lot of Mormon journalism and blogging) - in my opinion and judgment, the theology is not awful; rather I find much of it to be very beautiful, stirring and wise, and in a distinctive way.

But the point of theology is what is made of it in lived practice - not whether a religions books or creeds make up a wholly coherent, fully comprehensible and error free whole.

Who cares if the mainstream Christian denomination's articles of faith, confessions and catechisms are a marvel of theological perfection; when they are routinely and as a normal business applied selectively, distorted, ignored and just plain reversed and inverted?

Far too many mainstream Christians condescend to Mormons on the basis of their having 'better books' than the Mormons - but I am pleased to see that you are more impressed by how people live than what books they pretend to 'believe'. Lived faith should be our starting point and focus - the rest is a just a help, or hindrance.

AlexT said...

Thank you for the thorough and informative reply Dr. Charlton. I would like adress some of your points.

'ALL actually existing Christian denominations (without any exception) are deeply flawed, defective, incomplete, distorted, contain extra additions and unjustified deletions and prohibitions'.

'NO actually existing Christian denominations (without ny exception) deserve - or could Christianly be given - unconditional support or obedience'.

The flaws in the modern day Church are obvious to any serious believer, but the Truth, whole and undiluted, has to be somewhere, right? 'The gates of hell will never prevail' and all that. Granted the remaining true church might be greatly reduced in scope and numbers, but should still be somewhere.

'But the point of theology is what is made of it in lived practice - not whether a religions books or creeds make up a wholly coherent, fully comprehensible and error free whole'.

'Who cares if the mainstream Christian denomination's articles of faith, confessions and catechisms are a marvel of theological perfection; when they are routinely and as a normal business applied selectively, distorted, ignored and just plain reversed and inverted?'

But surely, the standards by which any church is judged is by a combination of theology and practice. One without the other doesn't do you much good. Leading an outwardly good life, but with heretical thoughts is Pharisaism. I won't argue about the specifics of Mormon theology with you, since i'm sure you're way ahead in your reading on the subject, but at some point, their belief system has to be taken into account when evaluating them.
Your comment about 'lived faith' does have the ring of truth to it, and i reiterate, i'm a big supporter of Mormonism, but they are different, in some ways radically so. It does no one any good to gloss that fact over.

bgc said...

@AlexT - Fair enough, but I'm not glossing over anything, partly because I don't think Mormons have anything to be ashamed of and which needs glossing-over; but also because the big problem is quite the opposite of glossing-over. Some of my most venomous comments have been anti-Mormon ones (obviously, I don't print them).

It really beggars belief to see such an unwarranted degree of arrogant superiority, disgust, paranoia and delusion! And from such positions of weakness and corruption!

I regard most of this as a sophomoric blend of ignorance, envy, and sniggering adolescent cynicism.

I agree with CS Lewis that theological differences are far above and beyond the capacity of the vast majority of Christians: we must be at a very high level before (most) theological errors can affect our sanctification.

(I don't mean gross heresies like denying the divinity of Christ.)

The Mere Christian perspective is that - for most purposes - such things can and should be set aside.

bgc said...

@Alex T - and another thing!

I haven't specifically written about this, but I think there are only two coherent ways of being a Christian:

1. To believe that salvation is restricted to a single Christian denomination (and, in practice, not to all members of that denomination, nor all institutions within that institution). So ALL real Christians are within one true denomination.

2. To be Mere Christian, which sees real Christians as distributed across some range of denominations, with different denominations presumably having different proportions of real Chrstians.

I adhere to the Mere Christian side of this divide. The question then is whether Mormons are Mere Christians. I say yes - since the 'positive' definition of being a Christian is very simple, something along the lines that Christ is accepted as your Lord and Saviour.

That is about as much as many people can grasp of Christianity - much beyond it, there is vast scope for honest ignorance and confusion.

(However, there are a number of 'negative' ways which might exclude a person or group from being Christian.)

But there is no Mere Christian denomination since the core is too small and insufficient to sustain the Christian life.

And all denominations have a greater or lesser tendency to claim exclusivity/ monopoly over salvation.

The Mere Christian cannot believe this, must take such claims with a pinch of salt, or perhaps as necessary fictions.

Bruce said...

What about the Jehovah’s Witnesses? They have large families and are very family-oriented. They stress marital fidelity, they dress like Christians dressed 50 years ago, etc. Mere Christians? Good or bad?
Also, do Mormons have way more children than average? Utah (70+% Mormon) has an average fertility rate of more than two but less than three.
There are some other small Christian denominations that have large families. E.g. the Apostolic Lutherans. 10+ children are not uncommon among them.

AlexT said...

I'm very sorry to hear that you get such nasty comments about Mormons. To be honest i'm not surprised. Mormons are one of those groups that seem to drive some rational people insane for no apparent reason.

I think i can fully agree with CS lewis' argument about theology and salvation.

Your point about denominational Christianity vs Mere Christianity is well taken, but i think that idea exists within denominations. I am a cradle Orthodox Christian, and have been told by many clerics and monks that salvation is up to God,and speculating on who gets to go to heaven is highly discouraged. However, only Orthodox christians will have access to the greatest degrees of Holiness(sainthood). I think that's an interesting parallel to your recent post about 'climbing the mountain of faith'. It seems the Orthodox Church agrees with you on that.

bgc said...

@Bruce - I speak only of that which I know. I don't know about JH's; but I know they are not successful in modern societies in the way that Mormons are. Also, almost all Mormons use contraception, and my point that that fertility is chosen.

Mormon fertility is above replacement - that is the only fact that is necessary for my argument.

BTW I don't think Utah is as much as 70 percent Mormon, and I am talking about devout, practising Mormons.

Also, I am not really talking about small and exclusive sects who are more or less detached from modernity - clearly, many or most of these are highly fertile.

bgc said...

@Bruce - by 'JH's' I intended to write JWs - Jehovah's Winesses.

bgc said...

@AT - "However, only Orthodox christians will have access to the greatest degrees of Holiness(sainthood)."

Very interesting.

I think that is substantially correct - in the sense thta Orthodoxy is 'set u' for this; however, this need not mean that it is impossible for people from other denominations to attain the highest level; only it is rare and the path is more hazardous.

(For example, I get the impression that the Roman Catholic Church's most famous Saint of Holiness - Francis of Assisi - is seen by some Orthodox as having been in the grip of spiritual pride and perhaps demonic influence.)

But, even that probably does not apply in all times and places of Orthodoxy.

The Mormon version of this (from memory, hope this is correct) is that the highest level of exaltation is available only to married Mormons whose marriages were sealed in Temples (and pariciated in Temple Ordinances) and died in good standing in the Church. A lower Heaven is the destination of other good people, whether Mormon or not. There is also some possibility of spiritual advance or decline after death - an 'evolutionary' model of salvation.

Bruce B. said...

When we had our first son in 2000, we were entirely ignorant of the basic beliefs of mere Christianity. As average, non-Church-going American children we simply were not taught. We were visited by Mormon missionaries shortly thereafter. I didn’t accept their beliefs but my wife did and was baptized at the local LDS parish. When we investigated their beliefs more thoroughly, we came to outright reject them. We were baptized in a Continuuing Anglican Church in 2007.

Meeting Mormons helped us in that it prodded us into investigating what mere Christians believe.

bgc said...

@BB - interesting story.

One of the cheerful things about being a Mere Christian is that it is a reason *not* to get overexcited about changing denomination! - in particular, not to be bitter against a denomination after you have left it.

There can be a movement between denominations according to whether or not one has children, or in line with spiritual development, or in response (positive or negative) to particular Priests or Pastors...

On the other hand, there is a price to pay for being semi-detached from a church, and church tourism is to be avoided as just another branch of the entertainment culture.

I would have guessed that evangelicals or Mormons would (usually) be better for those with large families - I mostly began to attend an Anglican Evangelical church for this reason, but have stayed with enthusiasm for the strong and solid Biblical teaching. And because it is a living (not dying) church.

However I do miss the traditional forms of liturgy and language, the Saints and Angels, prayers for the dead and so on...!

Dale James Nelson said...

Somewhat relevant, from the denomination that I identify with (LCMS):

http://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/health-med-fit/lutheran-leader-sides-with-catholics-on-contraceptives-issue-in-fiery/article_d4d9cb3b-f83f-5887-99f4-8c251618adde.html

I tried to find what the typical LCMS family size is. I imagine it is smaller than I'd like it to be. On the other hand, we have four children, and our pastor and his wife have 12, with increasingly copious grandchildren.

Bruce B. said...

Mr. Nelson,

Do you have homeschooling families in your parish?

Bruce B. said...

Do know Aaron Wolf at the Rockford Institute? He is LCMS and has written extensively about contraception. I think he has written that Luther categorized it as a sodomitic sin.

http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/2003/06/01/hating-babies-hating-god/

Donald said...

I think that there is alternative to mere Christianity or denominational exclusion-ism - and that is a "fullness" model - that a particular denomination has the fullness of faith vs another. I think this a good response if you are Catholic or Orthodox and take the sacraments as legitimate. It would be hard to see that if in Holy Communion Jesus Christ is truly present how one would not be at a disadvantage not to receive Him, or alternatively that if Baptism is ineffectual in salvation how one could remain those churches.

bgc said...

@Donald - I don't see that as a third alternative, rather as an indication of how the denomination is 'set up'. Evangelical churches are set up to win new converts and to make real Christians out of Christians in name only. But Orthodox churches (embedded in Orthodox states) are set up to elevate already-Christians to a higher level. The traditional Church of England (all but gone now) and Roman Catholics are something in between.