Viewpoint: “What Think Ye of Christ” This Christmas?

Contributed By the Church News

  • 18 December 2016

Across generations, what do the people of our day believe about Christ?

Article Highlights

  • Millions celebrate Christmas. How many of them believe Jesus is our Savior?
  • In a 2014 study, more than 2,000 people were asked if they believed Jesus was a historical figure.
  • Answers varied across generations, some calling for an updated definition of “God.”

“Jesus Christ is the Savior, whose atoning sacrifice opens the door for us to be cleansed of our personal sins so that we can be readmitted to the presence of God. He is our Redeemer.” Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

As millions of people across the world prepare to celebrate Christmas this year, one could question how many of these individuals and families will actually celebrate Christ. What do people in our day and age actually think about Christ? Do they believe He was part of world history? Do they believe He was the Son of God?

Survey results

In a 2014 study conducted in the United States by Barna Research, more than 2,000 people were asked if they thought Jesus Christ was a historical figure who lived on the earth. “More than nine out of 10 adults say Jesus Christ was a real person who actually lived (92 percent),” said the study. “While the percentages dip slightly among younger generations—only 87 percent of Millennials agree Jesus actually lived—Americans are still very likely to believe the man, Jesus Christ, once walked the earth.”

Although the percentage of those who believe Christ was a real person is high, what do people believe when asked if Jesus Christ was a god? The study said, “Most adults—not quite six in 10—believe Jesus was God (56 percent), while about one-quarter say he was only a religious or spiritual leader like Mohammed or the Buddha (26 percent). The remaining one in six say they aren’t sure whether Jesus was divine (18 percent).

“Millennials are the only generation among whom fewer than half believe Jesus was God (48 percent). About one-third of young adults (35 percent) say instead that Jesus was merely a religious or spiritual leader, while 17 percent aren’t sure what he was. In each older generation, the belief in Jesus as divine is more common—55 percent of Gen-Xers, 58 percent of Boomers and nearly two-thirds of Elders (62 percent) believe Jesus was God.”

What Think Ye of Christ?

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles expressed his thoughts about the declining belief in the divinity of the Savior almost 20 years ago at the October 1998 general conference in a talk titled “What Think Ye of Christ?” He said, “Some praise Jesus Christ as the greatest teacher who ever lived, but deny that he is Messiah, Savior, or Redeemer. Some prominent theologians teach that our secularized world needs ‘a new concept of God,’ stripped of the supernatural. They believe that not even a suffering God can help to solve the pain and tragedy of modern man.”

Making the leap from historical figure to divine Son of God requires faith, knowledge, and commitment. Once a person believes Christ was more than a religious teacher but a divine being, one must accept that His teachings are divine and must begin to live life according to His teaching or be in conflict with one’s beliefs and the will of God.

To help us cultivate a repository of experience and knowledge about Christ, Heavenly Father has provided us with the testimonies of hundreds of prophets both modern and ancient. Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: “From the beginning of time, prophets have known that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, of His mortal mission, and of His Atonement for all mankind. Sacred records give the prophecies of thousands of years, not only of the first coming of our Savior but also of the Second Coming—a glorious day that will most assuredly come” (“Finding Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” Oct. 2004 general conference).

The meaning of Christmas

The word Christmas itself has significant meaning for Christians and points to His life and ministry. According to the Catholic encyclopedia (1908) the word first appeared in 1038 AD. It comes from the middle English word Cristemasse or “Christ’s mass.” So the “Christ” in the word “Christmas” is representative of Him.

It’s also interesting to note that even the shortened version of the word Christmas in the form of “Xmas” is not an attempt to eliminate Christ from the holiday but is another representation of the Savior. According to Czech linguist Jakub Marian (jakubmarian.com), “the ‘X’ in ‘Xmas’ is, in fact, not the English letter ‘ex.’ It is an abbreviation of the Greek name of ‘Christ,’ which starts with the Greek letter Chi. Abbreviating ‘Christ’ as ‘X’ can be traced many centuries back, with some written documents dated as early as 1100 AD.”

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles asked, “What do members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints think of Christ?

“Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten Son of God the Eternal Father. He is our Creator. He is our Teacher. He is our Savior. His Atonement paid for the sin of Adam and won victory over death, assuring resurrection and immortality for all men.

“He is all of these, but he is more. Jesus Christ is the Savior, whose atoning sacrifice opens the door for us to be cleansed of our personal sins so that we can be readmitted to the presence of God. He is our Redeemer” (“What Think Ye of Christ?” Oct. 1988 general conference).

The quest of this life is to come to know this tiny babe of Bethlehem. Our eternal salvation hangs upon it! One of the best things about the Christmas season is its repetitive nature. Every year we have the opportunity to focus on Christ—His birth, His life, and His teachings. By focusing on the true meaning of Christmas, one can come to know Christ on a deep and personal level.

“Christmas is what we make of it,” said President Thomas S. Monson at the 2011 First Presidency Christmas Devotional. “Despite all the distractions, we can see to it that Christ is at the center of our celebration. If we have not already done so, we can establish Christmas traditions for ourselves and for our families which will help us capture and keep the Spirit of Christ.”