Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Can a Mormon be Saved?

In a recent post, Amy Hall at Stand to Reason entertains the possibility that some Mormons may be saved. It’s a thoughtful piece, and Hall describes several conversations she’s had with LDS members that are enlightening as to the differences between Mormons and Christians in terms of our hopes, goals and understanding of Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. In the end, she concludes a saved Mormon is theoretically possible but doubtful.

I found myself more or less agreeing with Hall: LDS theology is pretty far removed from the Christian faith in many respects. It would be difficult to imagine attending an LDS gathering for any great length of time without cluing in to that fact.

Variety is the Spice of Something

But arguments about whether any specific individual in a given group can be saved, or orthodox, or non-heretical on the basis of what their sect, denomination or church says they believe are carrying less and less weight with me the longer I browse the internet, and the longer I associate with believers of all sorts. It’s mind-boggling to behold the variety of beliefs out there, and how far removed they often are from what is allegedly taught by the churches these folks attend.

There are several factors that complicate drawing conclusions about individuals from what their groups teach and promote:
  1. Misunderstanding or Straw-Manning. It may be entirely accidental, or it may be a cheap device used to shut down opposing arguments, but fairly often I see my own theological school of thought characterized a particular way online and find myself thinking “I don’t believe that!” I’m astounded at some of the things people think Dispensationalists, Pre-Millennialists, Pre-Tribulationists and Non-Denominationalists believe simply because we claim some attachment to those schools of thought, or because they have read the writings of another proponent of those ideas who thought differently than I do. One online debater recently claimed Pre-Millennialism is “a model designed to say Jews are saved without converting to Christianity”. Perhaps for some people it is. I can’t speak for them. I know it isn’t for me, and I very much doubt whether it was the driving consideration in the minds of those who helped develop the modern version of that theological position.
  2. Multiple Schools of Thought. Just as there are a variety of approaches within Dispensational thinking, so there are a variety of schools of thought even within denominations which claim to be unified. A quick conversation about the eternal virginity of Mary, faith vs. works, and the personal presence of Christ in the Eucharist with five different Roman Catholics will probably net you a minimum of three different opinions. Likewise, there is plenty of variety between the statements of faith of Protestant churches even within the same denomination. Moreover, many churches do not demand you claim to believe everything in their statement of faith to become a member; they simply want to make sure you do not try to teach something they don’t agree with while you are associating with them.
  3. Fuzzy Teaching or No Teaching at All. It is possible to attend a local church for years and never have certain subjects come up. Over the years, I have broken bread with people who I later found out believed all manner of crazy things while attending a church which didn’t teach those things at all, but since nobody had ever broached those topics from the platform, they had no idea their own theology would be unwelcome there. Even more frequently they did not hold to certain expressed convictions laid out in their church’s statement of faith, and some of them had either not read it at all, didn’t know it existed, or had simply glanced at it without registering any bones of contention because they didn’t understand what it said. The story is told of two women who asked their pastor to marry them, unaware that he might have an issue with that.
Why Do They Stay Then?

The question is often asked why people with orthodox beliefs who attend churches in denominations with dubious beliefs or practices don’t simply leave and go somewhere more compatible with their own convictions.

Again, the answers to that are complicated. They may not know what their denomination is alleged to teach because it isn’t widely promoted in their local congregation. Sometimes, the cost of leaving friends or family behind is too great to consider moving; for example, a wife who is theologically sound may be married to a man who isn’t, and who would never consider leaving his church, so she submits to her husband as to Christ. Who would argue with her? In other cases, Christians have not realized there were other believers out there who shared their thinking because they had never been exposed to alternatives, or had accepted lies and distortions about them.

Opining About Other People’s Salvation

With all these things in mind, I am reluctant to categorically rule out the salvation or even the orthodoxy of anyone who claims to be Christian, no matter what his church, denomination or sect is alleged to teach. It’s not the least bit complicated to confirm that a person who believes Doctrines A, B or C cannot possibly be saved. It is a lot more complicated to confirm with certainty that any particular individual actually understands all those doctrines in exactly the way that we think they do, with no gray areas, caveats, qualifications or mitigating factors. A much longer conversation is required to reach that sort of conclusion.

In short, the alleged beliefs of the church one attends seem to me an insufficient basis for accusations of either heterodoxy or unbelief. There are lots of churches I would never attend for reasons of principle. That doesn’t mean all their members are heretics or on their way to hell.

Original photo: Tktru (CC BY 2.0)

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