Thursday, March 1, 2012

My Christianity: A Mormon's Perspective

My parents are converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  From the time I was five years old I’ve been taught what I consider some fundamental truths about Jesus Christ and my relationship with Him.  Some of the basic doctrine can be wrapped up in what we consider to be Articles of Faith.  Here are three of them.

“We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.”

“We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”

“We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

I believe the words of the Savior and his servants as recorded in the New Testament.

“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”  Gospel of St. Matthew 1:23

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”  Gospel of St. John 14:6

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Gospel of St. John 3:16

I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  I believe that He is my Savior, that he paid the price for my sins and that only through His grace can I be saved.  I believe that Jesus Christ knows and loves me personally, the same as He does the rest of God’s children.  I believe the words He spoke in His Sermon on the Mount.  I believe He would have me love and serve others as He did.

I consider myself a Christian.  I strive, albeit imperfectly, to follow His teachings and example.

There are some who would deny me of that privilege, of calling myself a Christian.  Going back in history others began to call members of my faith Mormons, because of our belief in an additional scripture known as The Book of Mormon.  In many cases the use of the term was meant to be derogatory, but the name stuck and was often used even by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  

Today there are some professors of Christianity who seek to deny others and me the validity of our Christian faith.  They feel that some of the differences between our beliefs disqualify my Christianity.  Based on my beliefs stated above, I don’t necessarily understand how they reached such a conclusion.  I do, however, respect their right to decide that the differences between us are too much for them to consider us brothers or sisters in Christ.  If my definition of Christian doesn't match with theirs, I'm fine.  I still consider myself a Christian and my opinion will have more weight in how I lead my life than theirs.

When someone tells me I’m not a Christian or I hear or read of others making that claim, I usually smile and try to explain politely what I believe about Jesus Christ.  When given the opportunity I will share scriptures from the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the words of men I consider to be living prophets.  For example I may share some of the following:

“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”  2 Nephi 25:26 (Book of Mormon)

“I am Jesus Christ: I came by the will of the Father, and I do his will.”  Doctrine and Covenants 19:24

“We solemnly testify that His life, which is central to all human history, neither began in Bethlehem nor concluded on Calvary.  He was the Firstborn of the Father, the Only Begotten Son in the flesh, the Redeemer of the World.”  The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles

If I’m not able to convince them of my Christianity, I move on with my faith still intact.  My beliefs and personal testimony are not impacted by the efforts of others to define my faith for me.  I understand and accept that we may have irreconcilable differences in religious beliefs.  I believe that many those who may not feel I qualify believe so for honest reasons.  

I do feel sadness and disappointment when others use those differences in an attempt to bolster the strength or position of their own faith or to diminish mine; or in an attempt to diminish my value and ability to contribute in the world at large.   For some reason their personal faith seems based in part on their attempts to define the faith of others.  If they can state that so and so is not a Christian, then that must result in them being a Christian.  These people use these differences to limit what those who are different from them can do in society.  They seem to demand conformity in exchange for the right to participate fully.

While faith and religious beliefs, when observed, do affect a persons values and decisions, it is important to note that among the different religious creeds most share the same basic values.  It’s interesting that in these conversations, many will say that you can’t trust someone who believes this or that, highlighting that it falls outside of their belief system.  These same people often forget how outlandish and fanciful their own beliefs might sound to an outsider, perhaps causing their own judgment to be called into question.  Each faith system brings it’s own eccentricities and peculiarities, but they also bring value and a desire for the common good.

I recognize and embrace that my faith has some tenets that are not accepted in mainstream Christianity.  I embrace being considered different for those beliefs.  It causes me no heartache to recognize those differences.  I hold firmly to the idea that my beliefs, all of them including the quirky ones, contribute to my set of values.  Looking around at other Christians and other belief systems, I often find that our values match up very nicely.  We value an honest and virtuous life.  We value our family.  We value our country.  We value hard work and service.  We value our neighbors and communities.

I am not opposed to spirited religious discussions.  Learning what another believes is exciting.  I have no problem with expressing why I may disagree with someone on an issue.  I have no problem if they disagree with me.  These types of conversations can be had without diminishing the value and integrity of the participants. 

The Prophet Joseph Smith said the following:

“Go in all meekness, in sobriety, and teach Jesus Christ and him crucified; not to contend with others on account of their faith, or systems of religion, but pursue a steady course.”

He also wrote this:

“We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

I am a Christian.  My faith prompts me to love and accept others, even if they don’t accept all that I believe.  My faith prompts me to value each individual, to serve others and to uplift others.  My beliefs are not meant to result in contention, but in greater understanding, greater acceptance, and greater love.

- Jarad Van Wagoner

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