Q. When nonmembers say we’re not Christians, what is the best way to respond?
, member of the Rapid City, South Dakota Stake presidency.
Just recently a friend of mine, a member of the Church, was told by another that since he was a Mormon he was not a Christian. I also have faced this situation a number of times. And every time it happens I’m astonished. I usually respond by saying, “But the name of the Church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Every prayer we utter is offered in his name. Every ordinance we perform we do in his name. We believe all the Bible says about him, and we have additional scripture about the Savior—the Book of Mormon—that serves as a second witness of Jesus Christ, telling about his appearance to people in the New World immediately following his resurrection.”
Sometimes this is what the other person needs to hear in order to understand that we are Christians. But sometimes it is not enough. After listening to this explanation, one nonmember acquaintance responded with, “But you’re still not Christian.” I was stumped, so I simply asked, “Why do you say that?” What took place at that point was most interesting as we tried to communicate our definitions of Christianity and thus of what a Christian is.
There is no definitive statement of what constitutes Christianity to be found in the Bible. If there were, there wouldn’t be so many churches, some believing baptism to be essential, others saying it’s not, some saying worship must be done on Saturdays, others on Sunday, for example. What it boils down to is that many nonmembers exclude us from Christianity because we don’t believe exactly what they believe.
The problem in this instance is the assumption they base their definition on. By their definition, we aren’t Christian; conversely, we could say they aren’t Christian because they don’t believe exactly what we do. There is no way to convince such people we are Christians without attacking their basic beliefs, and that usually results only in antagonism. Consequently, I simply bear my testimony and hope the Spirit will soften their hearts and open their minds.
Occasionally such an approach bears fruit and the person expresses a sincere interest in resolving our differences. If this happens, I try to help him gain a correct understanding of our beliefs in regard to his own as I am prompted by the Spirit to do so.
The doctrine of grace as set forth in a few selected passages from Paul’s writings is a good example to their notions of the doctrine of grace. We believe that it is Christ’s atonement which saves us, but we must endure to the end in doing good works if his atonement is to take effect on our behalf. Those who criticize this doctrine say that Christ’s grace alone is sufficient, that once we have confessed our faith in him we need do nothing else to be saved.
The Apostle Paul, in writing to the Ephesians, said, “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph. 2:8–9.) We of course believe this to be true. We also believe that Paul was not telling us that works were unimportant; in verse eight his purpose is simply to teach the importance of grace and its place in our salvation. I explain that King Benjamin says much the same thing in the Book of Mormon in his remarkable address to his people: “If ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.” (Mosiah 2:21.)
When a member of another Christian religion argues that accepting Christ as our Savior is all that is necessary for us to do to be saved, I refer to what Nephi tells us in the Book of Mormon: “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Ne. 25:23; italics added.)
That one last phrase, after all we can do, is extremely significant. It is by the atonement of Christ that we are saved, but it is necessary that we keep the commandments and obey the ordinances God has given us—in other words, do all we can to take advantage of the terms of Christ’s atonement.
I also explain that we accept the Bible in its entirety regarding what it says on grace, faith, and works, and not just a few selected passages which are often misinterpreted. Because of this, we believe that works are also important. I point out that James wrote:
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
“If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
“And one of you say to them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
“Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
“Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. …
“Wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? …
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2:14–18, 20, 26.)
It is unfortunate that nonmembers do not have the Book of Mormon’s definition of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a definition given by the Savior himself in 3 Nephi 27. Here the Savior tells us what constitutes true Christianity:
“Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.
“And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—
“And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.
“And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world. …
“And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.
“Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of The Holy Ghost: A Stranger, Visitor, or Constant Companion, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do; …
“What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.” (3 Ne. 27:13–16, 19–21, 27; italics added.)
It is clear, then, that we have much work to do as followers of Jesus Christ, works that require more than just acceptance of him as the Savior and Redeemer. And it is also clear that we can do this work because of the grace of God and because of our faith. The Book of Mormon contains a major statement concerning what this work is—our responsibilities and opportunities as Christians after we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior:
“And it came to pass after many days there were a goodly number gathered together at the place of Mormon, to hear the words of Alma. Yea, all were gathered together that believed on his word, to hear him. And he did teach them, and did preach unto them repentance, and redemption, and faith on the Lord.
“And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon … and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light.
“Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—
“Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?” (Mosiah 18:7–10; italics added.)
And when Alma baptized one of them, he said, “Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world. (Mosiah 18:13; italics added.)
It is clear that if we really accept the Savior, we covenant with him to help him carry out his work—to bear each other’s burdens, for example, to comfort each other, to testify of Christ, to keep his commandments.
After I have explained this, my acquaintance or friend might have further questions concerning other beliefs or differing points of doctrines. For each major point of difference in our definitions of what a Christian is, I try to do the same sort of thing that I do with the discussion on grace, faith, and works, as the Spirit guides, and if I am prepared to do so. (For those who argue that we worship the Prophet Joseph Smith—another common misconception—see Elder Robert E. Well’s address at General Conference, October 1982.) If I am not prepared to discuss a point of difference, I accept the question as a challenge to get prepared to do so—for there will more than likely be another opportunity, with someone else if not with him.
This is indeed the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are taught how to be, in the truest sense of the word, Christians. We belong to the Church of Jesus Christ, restored to the earth to help prepare the way for the second coming of the Savior. He is at the head of this church, and he speaks to our prophet.