Jesus Christ in Mormonism
Mormonism is a nickname sometimes incorrectly used as the name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While it is appropriate to refer to members as Mormons, Mormons prefer that the full name of the church be used at least once, and then LDS (Latter-day Saint) after that, but as a term referring to people, not the church itself.
This is important to Mormons because Jesus Christ’s name is in the center of the church. In the Book of Mormon, which Mormons use as a companion to the Bible, the people of what is now the Americas are visited by the resurrected Christ, because He was not just the Savior of the Holy Lands. He helps them organize their church and they ask what to call it. Jesus tells them that if a church has the name of a man, then the church belongs to that man. If they want it to be Christ’s church, it must be named after Him. The term Latter-day Saints merely demonstrates that it refers to the modern organization, rather than the primitive church. Early followers of Jesus called themselves Saints.
Mormonism Began With Jesus Christ
The Bible tells of a number of people who saw Jesus Christ in visions. These people were generally prophets or about to become prophets. The apostle Stephen, in the New Testament, was stoned after reporting his vision in which he saw both God and Jesus, with form and as individuals:
55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. (Acts 7)
In much the same way, Joseph Smith, as a teenager, looked up into the heavens and saw God and Jesus Christ. He had been struggling to choose a church, and, upon learning what the Bible said to do, chose to ask God directly through prayer:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him (James 1:5).
It was during this prayer in a nearby grove that God and Jesus Christ appeared in a vision, just as they did for Stephen. Jesus Christ instructed Joseph not to join any of the existing churches. Later, when he was grown, an angel appeared to Joseph, as angels have so often in Biblical history, to prepare Joseph to restore the fullness of the gospel.
Mormonism in the Book of Mormon
One of Joseph Smith’s first tasks was to translate the Book of Mormon, an ancient record of Christ’s dealings with people in what is now the American continent. These people left Jerusalem shortly before the fall. (The book also contains records of smaller groups that left at other times.) Lehi was a prophet whose life was endangered due to his preaching, and by commandment from God, he brought his family, another family, and a man encountered in the course of events, with him to this new world. Mormon scholars do not believe they arrived on an empty continent, as some Mormons once believed, and thus, they are not the sole ancestors of the Native Americans. In fact, most were killed prior to the end of narrative, leaving a small number to contribute DNA. What is important, however, is that these people brought with them their knowledge of the gospel and the portions of the Old Testament then available.
They continued to be led by prophets and learned of the future birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. They wrote of Him often in their records and preached of Him to their people. They knew He would be born, would atone for our sins, and would be killed and then would be resurrected. They knew He would come to see them some time after His death.
In time, that is just what He did. He told his followers in the Holy Lands, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16).
Jesus Christ is not merely the Savior of a small group of people who lived in a three-year time span in one small area. He is the Savior of the world and the people of other places were as important to Him as His mortal companions. It seems very natural to believe He would also take His message to some of those people as well. Those who hunger for every word the Savior spoke thrill at the opportunity to learn even more of His teachings and to know He took His gospel into other parts of the world.
The Atonement in Mormonism
M. Russell Ballard, a Mormon apostle, said:
Thankfully, Jesus Christ courageously fulfilled this sacrifice in ancient Jerusalem. There in the quiet isolation of the Garden of Gethsemane, He knelt among the gnarled olive trees, and in some incredible way that none of us can fully comprehend, the Savior took upon Himself the sins of the world. Even though His life was pure and free of sin, He paid the ultimate penalty for sin—yours, mine, and everyone who has ever lived. His mental, emotional, and spiritual anguish were so great they caused Him to bleed from every pore (see Luke 22:44; D&C 19:18). And yet Jesus suffered willingly so that we might all have the opportunity to be washed clean—through having faith in Him, repenting of our sins, being baptized by proper priesthood authority, receiving the purifying gift of the Holy Ghost by confirmation, and accepting all other essential ordinances. Without the Atonement of the Lord, none of these blessings would be available to us, and we could not become worthy and prepared to return to dwell in the presence of God.
The Savior later endured the agony of inquisition, cruel beatings, and death by crucifixion on the cross at Calvary. Recently, there has been a great deal of commentary about this, none of which has made clear the singular point that no one had the power to take the Savior’s life from Him. He gave it as a ransom for us all. As the Son of God, He had the power to alter the situation. Yet the scriptures clearly state that He yielded Himself to scourging, humiliation, suffering, and finally crucifixion because of His great love towards the children of men (see 1 Ne. 19:9–10) (. (M. Russell Ballard, “The Atonement and the Value of One Soul,” Ensign, May 2004, 84)
Are Mormons Christian?
The Bible does not define who qualifies as a Christian. In fact, the word is used only three times, always in a context suggesting it was used by outsiders initially. Jesus’ own followers preferred the term Saints. The Bible does not define a Saint, either. Jesus spoke of obedience to commandments and to love for God and Jesus Christ as marks of His followers. He did not outline specific doctrinal points that must be accepted in order to be called a Christian. Many today have attempted to create an arbitrary, non-Biblical list of doctrines required of anyone who wants to be called a Christian. The list does not come from the Bible, but instead requires acceptance to a post-Biblical document, rather than Biblical teachings.
Mormons are Christians. Jesus’ name is in the name of their church. He is at the heart of each worship service, which includes communion, called the Sacrament. He is in the hearts of the members of the church, who devote their lives to becoming more Christ-like. Accepting different doctrinal details does not mean one worships a different Jesus, anymore than seeing a government leader in a different way from another person means you’re led by a different person. A Christian isn’t found in scholarly documents. The heart of Christianity is the heart of the believer who loves Jesus Christ and accepts Him as his or her Savior.