Recently, Brother Micheal Otterson, who is the media relations director for the LDS Church, wrote a wonderful essay on whether or not Mormons are Christians.
I recognize that Creedal Christians have a specialized definition of “Christian,” and Later-day Saints are not “Christians” by that definition.
Latter-day Saints, they say, are not Christians because they reject the Trinitarian doctrine of the Nicaean Creed, and instead believe in a Godhead of three separate beings (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) who are one in purpose.
Aside from the question of how Protestants square Creedal Cristianity with their doctrine of Sola Scriptura, we should examine whether they apply their creedal definition consistently?
I remember the first time that I read John Milton’s Paradise Lost discovering that Milton presented God the Father and Jesus as two distinct beings. In particular this passage where the Father asks the equivalent of the famous Whom shall I send? query in LDS scripture:
To prayer, repentance, and obedience due,
Though but endeavour’d with sincere intent,
Mine ear shall not be slow, mine eye not shut.
And I will place within them as a guide,
My umpire Conscience; whom if they will hear,
Light after light, well us’d, they shall attain,
And to the end, persisting, safe arrive.
This my long sufferance, and my day of grace,
They who neglect and scorn, shall never taste;
But hard be harden’d, blind be blinded more,
That they may stumble on, and deeper fall;
And none but such from mercy I exclude.
But yet all is not done; Man disobeying,
Disloyal, breaks his fealty, and sins
Against the high supremacy of Heaven,
Affecting God-head, and, so losing all,
To expiate his treason hath nought left,
But to destruction sacred and devote,
He, with his whole posterity, must die,
Die he or justice must; unless for him
Some other able, and as willing, pay
The rigid satisfaction, death for death.
Say, heavenly Powers, where shall we find such love?
Which of you will be mortal, to redeem
Man’s mortal crime, and just the unjust to save?
Dwells in all Heaven charity so dear?
He ask’d, but all the heavenly quire stood mute,
And silence was in Heaven: on Man’s behalf
Patron or intercessour none appear’d,
Much less that durst upon his own head draw
The deadly forfeiture, and ransom set.
In Milton’s story, the question is asked after Lucifer has been ejected from Heaven, whereas in LDS doctrine it was, in part, his response to a similar question that lead to the expulsion of Lucifer along with those that agreed with him. But the similarity is striking.
Milton continues with the response from a pre-mortal Jesus, distinct from the Father:
And now without redemption all mankind
Must have been lost, adjudg’d to Death and Hell
By doom severe, had not the Son of God,
In whom the fulness dwells of love divine,
His dearest mediation thus renew’d.
Father, thy word is past, Man shall find grace;
And shall grace not find means, that finds her way,
The speediest of thy winged messengers,
To visit all thy creatures, and to all
Comes unprevented, unimplor’d, unsought?
Happy for Man, so coming; he her aid
Can never seek, once dead in sins, and lost;
Atonement for himself, or offering meet,
Indebted and undone, hath none to bring;
Behold me then: me for him, life for life
I offer: on me let thine anger fall;
Account me Man; I for his sake will leave
Thy bosom, and this glory next to thee
Freely put off, and for him lastly die
Well pleased; on me let Death wreak all his rage.
For Milton, even in a heavenly, pre-incarnation state, Jesus is a distinct being, subordinate to the Father. In fact, one might argue that Milton presented Jesus as the brother of the Devil more than anything that Latter-day Saints espouse.
Milton’s description of God’s “Umpire Conscience,” quoted in the first passage above, is very similar to LDS doctrine of The Light of Christ (compare Moroni 7:12-19 ) and Personal Revelation (compare Alma 12:10-11 ).
In an unpublished work attributed to Milton, discovered many years after his death, called De doctrina christiana, he even went as far as to express support for polygamy.
(Just to be clear, by pointing out some similarities between John Milton’s Christian beliefs and those of Mormons, I am not trying to imply that there aren’t plenty of doctrines we disagree about.)
So, despite the fact that John Milton held many views deemed heretical and in particular rejected creedal Trinitarianism, Christianity Today still lists him among the 131 Christians Everyone Should Know and few would say that Paradise Lost is not a Christian work.
It is my impression that most Creedal Christians consider John Milton one of the “great Christian writers” as he is explicitly labeled in this essay on the Christian website Crosswalk.com .
So, to Creedal Christians, Milton was a great Christian with perhaps some heretical views, but similar views of Latter-day Saints disqualify them from being Christians at all. Huh?
This inconsistency between the application of their definition of “Christian” to John Milton and Joseph Smith underscores the fact that their desire isn’t for doctrinal purity so much as it is for bigoted exclusion.
To prove otherwise, let Creedal Christians demonstrate a consistent application of their definition of Christianity by ejecting Milton and his “Non-Christian” works from the fold. We Mormons will gladly welcome him into ours.
If they are unwilling to revoke Milton’s Christianity, then they should accept Latter-day Saints for what they are: Christians.