“Are Mormons Christians?” has become a common question over the last number of years. In writing this entry, I hope to take a different approach in comparison to the many sources of information which are available on this subject1, and instead focus on Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ talk on Easter Sunday over 23 years ago.2
Obviously, “Are Mormons Christians?” is a very personal subject and goes to the core of my belief as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As I reviewed some of the material, I noticed there are widely divergent views with one or more groups attempting to define what it means to be a Christian. From a Latter-day Saint or Mormon perspective, I offer the following as my understanding of what it means to be a Christian or follower of Christ.
Taking Upon Us the Name of Christ and Becoming a Christian
In “Taking Upon Us the Name of Christ”, Elder Oaks referred to the “sacrament of the Lord’s supper, which many call communion”. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are commanded to partake of the sacrament each week. (D&C 59:9, 12). When we partake of the bread and water – which represents the body and blood of Christ (Mark 14:22-14) – we signify to our Heavenly Father that we are “willing to take upon [us] the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given [us].” (D&C 20:77; Moroni 4:3).
Elder Oaks then stated:
Our witness that we are willing to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ has several different meanings. Some of these meanings are obvious, and well within the understanding of our children. Others are only evident to those who have searched the scriptures and pondered the wonders of eternal life.
In particular, Elder Oaks mentioned three obvious meanings of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper or communion:
- We renew our covenant made at baptism when we signified to the Church that we had truly repented of our sins, expressed our willingness to take upon ourselves the name of Christ, and committed to serve him to the end. (D&C 20:37; see also 2 Nephi 31:13; Moroni 6:3).
- We took upon ourselves the name of Christ by becoming members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which Church bears his name. (D&C 115:4; 3 Nephi 27:7–8). We became members of the “household of God” (Ephesians 2:19) and are called “the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you.” (Mosiah 5:7; see also Alma 5:14; Alma 36:23–26). We also publicly proclaim our belief in Christ by following his example and seek to “sanctify the Lord God in [our] hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh [us] a reason of the hope that is in [us].” (1 Peter 3:15).
- The third meaning according to Elder Oaks “appeals to the understanding of those mature enough to know that a follower of Christ is obligated to serve him. Many scriptural references to the name of the Lord seem to be references to the work of his kingdom. Thus, when Peter and the other Apostles were beaten, they rejoiced ‘that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.’ (Acts 5:41). Paul wrote certain members who had ministered to the Saints that the Lord would not forget the labor of love they had ‘shewed toward his name.’ (Hebrews 6:10). According to this meaning, by witnessing our willingness to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ, we signify our willingness to do the work of his kingdom.”
Elder Oaks then proceeded and said:
There are other meanings as well, deeper meanings that the more mature members of the Church should understand and ponder as he or she partakes of the sacrament.
It is significant that when we partake of the sacrament we do not witness that we take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. We witness that we are willing to do so. (See D&C 20:77). The fact that we only witness to our willingness suggests that something else must happen before we actually take that sacred name upon us in the most important sense.
What future event or events could this covenant contemplate? The scriptures suggest two sacred possibilities, one concerning the authority of God, especially as exercised in the temples, and the other—closely related—concerning exaltation in the celestial kingdom.
The name of God is sacred. The Lord’s Prayer begins with the words, “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.” (Matthew 6:9.) From Sinai came the commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” (Exodus 20:7, Deuteronomy 5:11). Latter-day revelation equates this with using the name of God without authority. “Let all men beware how they take my name in their lips,” the Lord declares in a modern revelation, for “many there be who . . . use the name of the Lord, and use it in vain, having not authority.” (D&C 63:61–62).
Elder Oaks then went on to point out the many scriptures which “refer to ‘the name of Jesus Christ’ are obviously references to the authority of the Savior. This was surely the meaning conveyed when the seventy reported to Jesus that ‘even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.’” (Luke 10:17). He also stated the following:
By way of further illustration, the Old Testament contains scores of references to the name of the Lord in a context where it clearly means the authority of the Lord. Most of these references have to do with the temple.
When the children of Israel were still on the other side of the Jordan, the Lord told them that when they entered the promised land there should be a place where the Lord their God would “cause his name to dwell.” (Deuteronomy 12:11; see also Deuteronomy 14:23–24; Deuteronomy 16:6). Time after time in succeeding revelations, the Lord and his servants referred to the future temple as a house for “the name” of the Lord God of Israel. (See 1 Kings 3:2; 1 Kings 5:5; 1 Kings 8:16–20, 29, 44, 48; 1 Chronicles 22:8–10, 19; 1 Chronicles 29:16; 2 Chronicles 2:4; 2 Chronicles 6:5–10, 20, 34, 38). After the temple was dedicated, the Lord appeared to Solomon and told him that He had hallowed the temple “to put my name there for ever.” (1 Kings 9:3; 2 Chronicles 7:16).
Similarly, in modern revelations the Lord refers to temples as houses built “unto my holy name.” (D&C 124:39; D&C 105:33; D&C 109:2–5). In the inspired dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple, the Prophet Joseph Smith asked the Lord for a blessing upon “thy people upon whom thy name shall be put in this house.” (D&C 109:26).
All of these references to ancient and modern temples as houses for “the name” of the Lord obviously involve something far more significant than a mere inscription of his sacred name on the structure.
Are Mormons Christians? in Summary
In summary, I believe that Elder Oaks taught what it means to be a Christian:
When the priest offers the scriptural prayer on the bread at the sacrament table, he prays that all who partake may “witness” unto God, the Eternal Father, “that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son.” (D&C 20:77; Moroni 4:3). This witness has several different meanings.
It causes us to renew the covenant we made in the waters of baptism to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ and serve him to the end. We also take upon us his name as we publicly profess our belief in him, as we fulfill our obligations as members of his Church, and as we do the work of his kingdom.
But there is something beyond these familiar meanings, because what we witness is not that we take upon us his name but that we are willing to do so. In this sense, our witness relates to some future event or status whose attainment is not self-assumed, but depends on the authority or initiative of the Savior himself.
Scriptural references to the name of Jesus Christ often signify the authority of Jesus Christ. In that sense, our willingness to take upon us his name signifies our willingness to take upon us the authority of Jesus Christ in the sacred ordinances of the temple, and to receive the highest blessings available through his authority when he chooses to confer them upon us.
Finally, our willingness to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ affirms our commitment to do all that we can to be counted among those whom he will choose to stand at his right hand and be called by his name at the last day. In this sacred sense, our witness that we are willing to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ constitutes our declaration of candidacy for exaltation in the celestial kingdom. Exaltation is eternal life, “the greatest of all the gifts of God.” (D&C 14:7).
That is what we should ponder as we partake of the sacred emblems of the sacrament. As we do so, we glory in the mission of the risen Lord, who lived and taught and suffered and died and rose again that all mankind might have immortality and eternal life. Of this I testify in the sacred name of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose witness I am, amen.
These are blessings to which all faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints aspire. I believe Elder Oaks’ talk conveys the essence of what it means to be a Christian. Some of these blessings are “not self-assumed” but are dependent upon the “authority or initiative of the Savior himself.” Ultimately the Savior chooses those who will be called by his name at the last day and are Christians in the full sense of the word.
- See for example, Robinson, Stephen E. Are Mormons Christians? Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991; Millet, Robert L. A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2005.; “Are Mormons Christians?”. Light Planet. 26 November 2008; Abrams, Cooper. “Are Mormons Christian?”. Christian News and Views. 28 November 2008; and, Kennedy, John W. “Are Mormons Christians?: Checking the Credentials of the ‘Saints’”. 15 June 1998. Christianity Today. 28 November 2008.↩
- Oaks, Dallin H. “Taking Upon Us the Name of Jesus Christ“. May 1985. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 26 November 2008.↩