The Alternative: Biblical Christianity
I was once asked by a young Mormon whether I personally felt that Mormonism was "Christian." "I know that all individuals can be considered separate cases," he told me, "and that only God can truly judge what is in a person's heart -- but I want to know if you consider my church to be 'Christian' on your terms, the same way you think of your church as being 'Christian.' "
What the young man apparently did not know was that I had once been a believing and dedicated Latter-day Saint myself. After considering for a moment, I told him that I felt the proportion of orthodox Christians who considered Mormonism to be Christian was probably about the same as that of Latter-day Saints who considered orthodox Christianity acceptable in God's sight.
There was a pause before he responded, and I suspected he was recalling, as I was, the memorized words of the popular account of Joseph Smith's First Vision --
" ... My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right . . . I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong) ... I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personages who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that all those professors were corrupt" ... (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith -- History 1:18,19)
"That was a very good answer," he finally responded, obviously surprised. So was I. I take no credit for the answer -- I believe God gave it to me to use at that particular moment.
The fact remains that Latter-day Saints would like very much to be recognized as part of the Christian community and called by the label "Christian." This, despite the fact that they consider orthodox Christians (members of ''the sects," as they call them) to be in an apostate condition; incomplete at best, corrupt at worst. The LDS Church holds that the "Apostasy" of Christendom was the whole reason for the "Restoration" which the teachings of Mormonism are supposed to represent. Every believing Latter-day Saint bases his or her acceptance of the Mormon Church on this premise. Of course the Mormon charge that orthodox Christianity is apostate assumes that Mormonism is itself true. But, a vast array of evidence overwhelmingly proves otherwise. However, the Latter-day Saint who discovers that his organization is not what he thought is not left with nothing. Jesus and the Bible were there long before Joseph Smith and biblical Christianity still remains, waiting to be examined and tested on its own terms.
However, some people are confused by the different Christian denominations. ''Why are there so many churches,'' they ask? ''And which is the true Church?'' For want of a better analogy, this is like shopping for a vase in which to put some flowers, and, on seeing many different styles of vases, exclaiming, ''But which is the right vase?''
The fact is that vases can differ a good deal in size and shape, and still share the essential requirements necessary to hold flowers. And so it is with the various denominations within orthodox Christianity. Though they differ a good deal in outward appearance (secondary doctrinal matters, worship style, etc.), they share the essentials of biblical Christianity. None of these denominations is the one true Church. Instead, all true believers in these various churches are a part of what the New Testament calls the ''Body of Christ'' (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 5:25-32), the Church Universal.
Local Christian congregations are temporal vehicles for worship, fellowship, and the edification of believers. It is natural that a Christian will want to become a part of a local assembly of believers where he can find encouragement and edification, and Scripture commands us to seek such fellowship (Hebrews 10:25). However, the Bible makes it clear that a person's salvation is based on his relationship with Jesus Christ, not membership in a Christian congregation.
Following is a thumbnail outline of the essential doctrines of historic, biblical Christianity shared by all orthodox Christians regardless of denominational labels:
The Bible is God's unique, final, and infallible revelation. It is this solid foundation of the inspired writings of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20), on which the Christian Church was established, Christ himself being the cornerstone.
There is only God (Isaiah 44:6,8) and He has eternally existed as God (Psalm 90:2). He is the Creator of all things, but is Himself is self-existent and uncreated.
One biblical passage in which Jesus himself brings together the teaching of the Old and New Testaments on this point in Mark 12:28-34, where Christ is being questioned by Jewish religious leaders. One of them asks him, "Which is the greatest commandment of all?" The Lord Jesus responds by quoting the great Old Testament confession of faith found in Deuteronomy 6:4,5 -- "The first of all the commandments is, Hear O Israel, The Lord your God is one Lord." The scribe's response shows both that he fully endorsed Jesus' answer, and that the Jews understood the Old Testament passage Jesus had quoted to teach that there is only one God: "And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God, and there is none other but he." Jesus, in turn, gives his approval to the scribe's statement of faith: "And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God." (Other important Scriptures that emphasize that there is only one God include Isaiah 43:10,11; 44:6,8; 45:21,22; 46:9.)
All men are born in a fallen condition, separated from God in His holiness by the awful moral gulf of sin. God created man in a state of innocence and fellowship with Himself, but this fellowship was broken by the sinful disobedience of Adam and Eve. Their disobedience unleashed the power of sin and death in the world. All men are thus born with a sinful nature, and will be judged for the sins they commit (Ezekiel 18:20), unless they receive God's offer of grace through Jesus Christ. Romans 3:23,24 says that, "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God; Being freely justified by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." God's Word describes us as "dead in our trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1,5). We can do nothing through our own works or merit to remedy our separation from God --dead men are powerless to help themselves.
Holiness and love are equal attributes of God's character. God's holiness demands that He judge all sin. However, His love has moved Him to make a gracious provision to save lost mankind. God's attributes of holiness and love are reflected, respectively, in the Old Testament moral law (Ten Commandments) and ceremonial law (system of animal sacrifices). The moral law was given to make man aware of his inability to meet the perfect demands of God's holiness (Romans 5:20; 7:7; Galatians 3:19), and the ceremonial law was given to point to God's gracious provision of atonement and reconciliation that was ultimately accomplished in Jesus Christ, "the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29; see also, Hebrews 9:11-14; 10:1-14).
Jesus Christ is God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not separate Gods, but are Persons within the one Tri-une Godhead. As we have seen, Jesus re-affirmed the Old Testament teaching that there is only one God. At the same time, the New Testament clarifies what is hinted at in the Old Testament (Genesis 1:26; 11:7), that there are three Persons within the one Godhead (Matthew 28:19,20; 2 Corinthians 13:14; 1 Peter 1:2). Therefore, we must reasonably understand that God is Tri-une.
While never ceasing to be God, at the appointed time the Son voluntarily laid aside the glory He shared with the Father and became flesh for our salvation (John 17:4, 5; Galatians 4:4,5; Philippians 2:6-11). His incarnation was accomplished through being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin. On the cross He took the personal sins of all men -- past, present and future -- in His own body and bore the judgment of God in our place (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus' atonement was first and foremost a solution for our sin problem. His shed blood propitiated (satisfied) the demands of God's holiness (1 John 2:2) and is the only basis by which God can grant us forgiveness and eternal salvation.
God who is "rich in mercy" and "not willing that any should perish," came to reveal His love by identifying with us. Wonder of wonders, Jesus, the Creator of this universe and of all that is, fulfilled centuries of prophecy by word and picture. Millions of lambs were slain on Jewish altars pointing to Him, the Lamb of God. His blood that was shed on the cross as He bore your sins and mine in incredible pain and abandonment by God and man, forever paid the sin debt, and sin is all that ever has or could separate us from God. There is nothing left to be done, added or paid, for our complete and eternal salvation! To infer otherwise is to cheapen the sacrifice of Jesus as if it were not all-sufficient (Galatians 2:21), and to minimize His great love.
He did not die just so we would be resurrected from the dead. All men are resurrected, some to eternal damnation in the Lake of Fire (John 5:29; Revelation 20:14-15). The brutal, bloody death of the Son of God on the cross is graphic testimony to the fact that we are already lost, a condemned race (John 3:18), in danger night and day of plunging into a lost eternity in Outer Darkness. To be in Outer Darkness, or Hell, is to be without hope, without God, in a place of torment, the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14-15). The Savior knows this, He wept for us, as He did over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44). He knows the awfulness of Hell, and the urgent need to be saved from our sinful 'going our own way,' acting as our own god.
The Savior also longs to dwell in us, to have sweet fellowship with us. For this we were created. He wants us to bring glory to Him and to bring others into His kingdom. He longs to shower His love upon us, but He cannot fellowship with us in our self-righteousness and sin. He wants us to have a new quality of life here, with peace, and certainty and joy in Him, and then to share the glory of Heaven with Him forever. He wants us to understand that we do not become new creatures by our own efforts, however 'good' and religious, and then invite Him into our lives. We are washed from our sins, and made children of God with a new nature, when He enters our life and we become "new creatures in Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:17). He wants us to be absolutely sure that we will go to Heaven, and not to Hell (1 John 5:9-13). No more sorrow, death, tears, parting, heartbreak, wickedness, war, sin, but instead, incomparable beauty, basking in His great love and sharing Heaven with Him and all the saved in His family forever. This is what He died for, shed his blood in agony for, rose again and conquered death for, to save people like you and me, now and forever. Oh, how He loves us! The cross proves that. He wants to give you new life in Him right now. That is what He wants. What do you want?
Through a simple prayer of faith you can make the decision today to receive God's free offer of salvation. Recognizing your own helplessness and the precious provision of Jesus on the cross, you only need to confess your sin and ask God to forgive you and save you through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. The Word of God declares,
"That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth is confession made unto salvation" (Romans 10:9,10).
The promise of God's Word is clear and certain, "But as many as received him (Jesus Christ), to them gave he power to become sons (children) of God, even to them that believe on his name" (John 1:12). If you agree with what God has said in His Word, that you are separated from Him by your sin, and you understand the good news that Jesus Christ died in your place so that you can be forgiven, why not bow your head right now and ask God to save you?
There are no magic words, no prescribed phrases to impress God with, He already sees your heart and knows what you are thinking. As with any good relationship, He wants the honest expression of your heart and stands ready to listen and forgive.
If you have prayed to receive Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, consider the words of John 6:47 carefully: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life." Believing, receiving, calling upon, and 'opening the door' (Revelation 3:20), are expressions used more or less interchangeably in the Bible. They mean that the kind of heart (not head) belief which saves is the kind that makes a definite decision at a point in time to accept, receive, believe in, call on, Christ.
''He that believeth on the Son, hath (already has) everlasting life.'' So, what do you have right now, if you truly believed in Jesus Christ when you called on Him? What kind of life? Where are you sins? Who has them? Could anyone or anything ever take this 'everlasting' life from you? Where would you go if you were to die right now?
If you now realize that Jesus Christ has come into your life, saved you, and given you everlasting life, if you now know, based on the Word of God, that if you were to die you would go to Heaven to be with the Lord Jesus Christ, please bow your head and thank Him for saving your soul. Then tell others you have been saved by simply trusting Jesus Christ, and begin immediately a life of obedience to Him. This will demonstrate the reality of your salvation.
If you are still in doubt, you may not really be believing Him, and He only saves by faith. Or, you may not understand. Or, you may be clinging to some sin, or some false teaching that you are unwilling to turn over to Jesus.
Most likely, however, you are waiting for some 'feeling' to confirm your salvation. We are not saved by feelings, but by faith in Jesus, and in what God's Word says about saving us when we trust Him. Feelings come and go, but resting in God's Word is what gives permanent assurance of our salvation. To call on Jesus to save us, and then to wonder if He did, means we are doubting His integrity. In essence, this makes God a liar -- 1 John 5:10. It also casts doubt on His love. Would He love you enough to die for you in sheer torture and blood, and the turn you down when you call on Him to save you?
Feelings are important -- God gave us emotions, but never is our salvation to be based on feelings. They are too untrustworthy, deceitful at times, and fluctuate too much. Our salvation is based on the Word of God. The Spirit of God acts in accordance with the Word of God as we trust Jesus, to bring about the new birth in our hearts (1 Peter 1:23; Romans 10:17).
If an honest man promises us $1000 simply for the asking, and we do ask him for the $1000, he must give the money to us, regardless of how we feel or don't feel, or any other considerations. God is more honest than any man. If you asked Jesus to save you, you can know, based on His promise, that you have Jesus and His salvation.
Finally, knowing you are saved, because God said so, will time and again bring great joy and peace into your heart! You can memorize John 6:47 and Romans 10:13, and use them as a soft pillow for a tired head for the rest of your life, knowing, that if you were to die, you would go to heaven to be with Jesus Christ forever. Keep the order straight: Fact, faith, and feelings. Sometimes, God withdraws all feelings, so we can develop and walk by faith. Then the joy in Him eventually is increased.
Rejoice in Him and His salvation, and live obediently for Him the rest of your life. Read the Bible, pray, serve Him in church, and love Him with all your heart.
If you would like further counsel on this matter, or if you have questions about anything discussed in the book, you are cordially invited to contact:
Institute for Religious Research
600 West Street
Cedar Springs, MI 49319
Suggested further reading: John R. Stott, Basic Christianity, C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity , J. I. Packer, Knowing God.