The biggest political story last week was a religious story. Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, was talking to reporters after he introduced Rick Perry at the Values Voters Summit, a yearly gathering of social conservatives. During his remarks, he stated that evangelical voters should always prefer a competent Christian over a Mormon. He called Mormonism a cult, and argued that Christians shouldn't vote for Mitt Romney, since he is a moral man but isn't truly a Christian.
A few thoughts:
Pastors need to be extremely slow to publicly endorse political candidates. This has nothing to do with the IRS -- if my church faced the loss of non-profit status for preaching the Bible, so be it. But the reasons to avoid endorsing political candidates go deeper than tax status.
First, the Church's allegiance belongs to Jesus Christ. When we look at church history, we see that the church's mission gets obscured when it aligns too closely with particular political parties or leaders. For that reason, a respectful distance between the Church and government is appropriate. We're called to submit to our leadership (Romans 13) and to pray for them (1 Timothy 2:1-12). We're even called to pay taxes (Luke 20:22-25). Notice, however, that Jesus says our money can go to the government, but our allegiance and our lives belong to God.
Second, politicians are just people. They do what politicians do -- try to win elections, and hopefully try to govern well. There is no doubt that one's religious beliefs affect how he or she governs. But politicians are capable of professing Christianity (or any belief system) for the purpose of winning elections. I'm not doubting Perry's faith -- I don't know the man. I do know, though, that virtually every President of the past 100 years, Republican or Democrat, has claimed Christianity. It didn't always make them good Presidents or even good men. So we ought to be very cautious in assuming that one's public religious affiliation will determine how he or she acts in office.
That being said, pastors are responsible to evaluate political issues in light of the Scripture. I prefer to help people think through the critical issues from a biblical perspective and let them follow the Holy Spirit in deciding how to vote. So pastors should address what the Bible says about government, abortion, economics, war, and other issues but avoid endorsing candidates. I do vote, and I have opinions about which candidates are best, but it's simply not my job to align my ministry with a particular politician. It's my job to examine what the Bible says about the issues. Then, people can vote for a leader based on his policy positions as they relate to God's values.
Finally, I think Jeffress has been treated too harshly for his assessment of Mormonism. Whether we use the word "cult" or not, Mormonism is clearly a group that deviates from traditional orthodoxy. Mormons do not believe in the unique deity of Christ or in the deity of the Holy Spirit. They believe that people can become gods, and that God was once a man. They profess that salvation is achieved through works, not by grace through faith alone. They deny the unique authority of the Bible and add additional Scriptures. The thing for which Jeffress is being most harshly criticized is actually the one area in which he was correct, regardless of whether you agree with his terminology. (As a side note, he isn't the first to call Mormonism a cult. It is a widely held view among evangelicals that they are a cult, based upon their doctrinal deviation from orthodox Christianity.)
I'm sure I've opened a can of worms here -- your thoughts and opinions?
The college town in which I live has a higher concentration of Mormon missionaries than any other place I've lived (Mormons are also known as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). It is not unusual for my home to be visited by missionaries multiple times in a single month. As a result of its prominence in our community, students and adults frequently ask me how the theology of Mormonism compares to that of Christianity.
I mentioned in a previous post that I would be writing about the "essentials" of the Christian faith over the next few weeks, and this post is a continuation of that series. One of the most significant ways in which Mormon doctrine varies from that of traditional Christianity is in its understanding of the nature of God. To put it plainly, Mormonism denies the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. As seen from the link, they argue that the Trinity was a late addition to the Christian faith, one that is non-essential for Christians and is in fact false doctrine. Perhaps the most frequent argument they use against the Trinity is to say that the word "Trinity" is never used in the Bible -- a true statement, but one akin to saying that because the Constitution does not use the phrase "separation of powers" the concept is therefore absent.
The doctrine of the Trinity is that there is only One God, who exists in Three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Mormonism differs from orthodoxy because it ultimately amounts to a subtle form of polytheism -- Jesus, the Son of God, did not exist from eternity past, but instead became a god through obedience and faithfulness to His Father. Faithful people (read: Mormons) can also become gods through obedience and belief in Jesus. This is their doctrine of theosis, which amounts to a plurality of gods -- polytheism. (Note: The links in the above paragraphs are to the official LDS website -- I'm obviously not endorsing their views but am providing the direct links so you can confirm that I'm not misrepresenting their theology).
It is a critical issue, and one that truly does separate Christianity from the cults. The Scripture does not use the word Trinity, but is clear on the concept -- which is why the Nicene Creed was drafted by the Church in A.D. 325. It was a response to a heretic named Arius, who insisted (as the Mormons of today) that Jesus was a created being who became divine. Here is some Scriptural evidence for the Trinity:
- There is only one God who rules the entire Universe -- not just this planet (Is 45:5; Dt 6:4; Is 42:8; Dt 4:35; Is 40:25-26; Ps 8:3-4).
- Jesus is God and existed as God from before time began (Jn 1:1; Col 2:9; Heb 1:3; Jn 8:57-59; Jn 20:27-28).
- The Holy Spirit is a personal Being who is God (Acts 5:3-4; Jn 16:4-15; 2 Cor 3:17-18; 1 Cor 12:4-6).
- The Scripture repeatedly puts the Three members of the Trinity together in formulations that imply oneness, not just of purpose but also of nature and Name (Mt 28:18-20; 2 Cor 13:14; Mt 3:16-17; Eph 1:3-14).
There is little doubt that the Scripture supports the traditional doctrine of the Trinity, and it is a mark of orthodoxy for Christians. Far from being an optional idea, it speaks to the very core of our faith.
So my question for you: What are the practical implications of the Trinity for the spiritual life? For example, if Jesus or the Holy Spirit were not divine, would it matter to our faith? Why or why not?