The debate continues over whether Mormons are a part of historic Christianity – this time in an address by a church apostle, Boyd K. Packer, to 15,000 students at Brigham Young University, Feb. 1, reported by The Salt Lake Tribune, and a letter-to-the-editor reply by Phil Roberts, director of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board's interfaith witness team.
Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve, a tier of Mormon authority second only to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' governing First Presidency, gave "one of the strongest declarations in memory about the nature of the faith" in his lecture at BYU, The Tribune reported Feb. 2.
Roberts, recapping various Mormon beliefs, noted in his letter, "All of these concepts began with Joseph Smith and are not a part of biblical and historical Christianity."
Packer did not mention the Southern Baptist Convention by name in his address, the newspaper noted. The SBC will hold its annual meeting in Salt Lake City June 9-11 and, in preparation for the visit by Southern Baptists from across the country, NAMB's interfaith witness team has prepared several resources for witnessing to Mormons, including a video, The Mormon Puzzle.
Packer, however, said he was addressing his remarks for "someone not present with us," The Tribune reported. "My message is for those who teach and write and produce films which claim that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a Christian church and that we, the members, are not Christian," Packer said at the Provo university's Marriott Center.
Replied Roberts, "Our video, The Mormon Puzzle, was an honest attempt to delineate fairly our differences. That is why Mormon apologists are on the film articulating them. What could be unfair or subversive about clarifying these differences and inviting Mormon theologians to help us?"
The Tribune listed several evidences Packer cited for Mormonism's roots in Christianity:
• Mormon scripture's "harmonious witness" to Christ's birth, life, teachings, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and atonement.
• The Book of Mormon's account of Jesus appearing to his disciples and instructing them to name their new church for him.
• A wealth of Mormon hymns and anthems testifying to the divinity of Jesus Christ.
The Tribune noted Packer acknowledged Mormon doctrinal beliefs "will continue to be misunderstood and disturb our critics," such as:
• The LDS church is the "one true and living" church on earth.
• The Book of Mormon and other scriptures rank on par with the Bible.
• Revelation continues to be received through Mormon apostles and prophets.
• The trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three distinct personages, with the Father having a physical body "as tangible as man's."
• LDS members are "spirit children" of God capable of becoming like he is.
• Mormon salvation is not by grace, but by grace "after all we can do," Packer said. "Our critics' belief, based on the Bible, holds that man is saved by grace alone. Theirs is by far the easier way," the Mormon leader was quoted as saying. Mormons, on the other hand, follow the church's tenets, give tithes, and send their children out as missionaries in order to be saved by grace as well as works, The Tribune recounted.
"We need not justify what we believe, only to teach, to explain," Packer was quoted as saying. "Others can accept or reject as they please. … We know whom we worship and what we worship and in whose name."
Roberts, in listing differences between historic Christianity and Mormonism, wrote in his letter to the editor: "Mormonism teaches that God was once an ordinary human being who achieved godhood; that Jesus was procreated as a literal offspring of 'heavenly father and mother;' and that the way to the highest blessing of heaven (the celestial kingdom in Mormon parlance) passes through the gates of Mormon temples where one must be sealed, endowed, and married to achieve exaltation."
Roberts noted, "The Gospel is, for Bible-based Christians, a free gift. If that is too easy, then one must argue with God Himself Who inspired the words, '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' (Ephesians 2:8-9, KJV). "Jesus Christ is Eternal God who suffered on the cross for the sins of the world," Roberts continued. "Therefore Baptists do not 'proselytize,' for no one can be saved by becoming a Baptist. We 'evangelize' (tell the good news), because anyone who trusts the true Jesus Christ will be fully saved regardless of their church identity."
Roberts concluded his letter, noting he was writing "tongue in cheek:" "I will propose, as director of the Interfaith Witness Team of the North American Mission Board, SBC, that all Southern Baptists going to Salt Lake City in June desist from encouraging Mormons to become Baptists if the LDS Church will agree to withdraw all of their 50,000-plus missionaries from their proselytization efforts of Protestant Christians to become LDS. After all, it is the gospel alone and not any church that is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16)."
To order a copy of The Mormon Puzzle call 1-800-233-1123.