The Idiot Mormon’s Guide to Orthodox Christianity, Part 1

Okay, as many of you know, the terminologies employed by both Mormons and orthodox Christians (hereafter “Christians” for brevity’s sake) are identical in form, but often different in meaning. Since getting the word out to our neighbors in the form of missionary work is one of the three essentials to the overall mission of the Mormon church (the other two being perfecting the saints and redeeming the dead), I thought I’d share with you some of the common vocabulary employed by both sides, but at the same time note some of the key differences.

These are all terms phrases that I noticed during my first semester of graduate school at a Protestant educational institution. When appropriate, I will flag terms as distinctly Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, or what have you.

I believe that knowing some of these distinctions will create greater meaning between Mormons and Christians. As always, I encourage you to contribute some of the same similarities/differences in vocabulary that you’ve noticed!

1. Sacrament. For Christians, this term is primarily utilized as a catch-all term for what Mormons call “ordinances” (another misnomer I will discuss later). For Catholics, the sacraments are seven in number. I’m not sure why the Mormon Church now utilizes the term “sacrament” as only applicable to the Lord’s Supper, but I imagine that it is now a truncated form of, possibly, “The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.” Since it may appear somewhat strange to our Christian brethren and sisteren to hear us saying “sacrament meeting,” perhaps we might qualify what we mean by “sacrament” when discussing it in the company of Christians.

2. Melchizedek Priesthood. This is actually a New Testament term from Hebrews 11. For most Christians, only Jesus possesses the Melchizedek Priesthood, and it can be very offensive for them to hear that we claim to possess it on a collective scale.

3. Similarly, terms like “priest,” “teacher,” and “deacon” for most Christians indicate not only some form of formal ordination before a recognized authority, but there is much more semantic weight with each of them. For us, it mostly indicates the age of the young man (and his purported worthiness) as well, e.g., a 17 year old boy would be considered part of his local priest quorum (but not in every case). Likewise, when a Christian hears us say “I’m an ordained Elder in the Mormon Church,” their assumption, in many cases (though not all), will have them believe that the elder in question has been to some form of parochial school or seminary style of training, passed certain exams and met certain requirements, and then defended himself before an ordained board of ministry of some sort. Likewise with terms such as “deacon,” “priest,” etc. Priesthood ordination is big-time for Christians.

4. Jehovah/Elohim. I almost dare not go here because of how defensive so many temple Mormons become when discussing this. But it is something that offends or causes much confusion with our Christian friends. The Mormons are pretty much alone in assuming that Jesus is a pre-incarnate Jehovah/Yahweh – something I assumed most people except the J-Dubs espoused. However, we ought to be aware that when discussing God’s name with Trinitarian Christians, they won’t see Yahweh as Jesus like most of us do (save only through Trinitarian means). He is what we would call “The Father.” If you’re interested, I can post some of the biblical (read: Hebrew language) reasons for thinking that J and E are the same dude.

5. “The Church.” When our Christian brethren and sisteren say “The Church,” they’re not always talking about their own denomination. Many times they’re referring to all of (orthodox) Christianity. When Mormons utilize the term, it almost exclusively refers only the Mormon Church. This is a handy one to know.

6. Virgin. For Christians, this term represents a woman that has not yet had sexual intercourse with anyone else from this world or any other world (sorry Ezra Benson).

7. Martin Luther. This is not “that one black guy from the 1960s,” but rather the church reformer, which the Lutheran Church now eponymously employs. He’s very important for Protestants, akin to Joseph Smith for a Mormon (although not venerated so often). He was the father of the Reformation, and I believe there’s even praise from our own general authorities for his efforts.

36 Replies to “The Idiot Mormon’s Guide to Orthodox Christianity, Part 1”

  1. Good idea David. I’m not sure I am thrilled with all of the results though. Here are the parts I question:

    1. Orthodox Christian – It sounds like you are calling basically all Protestants and Catholics as “Orthodox Christians”. I don’t get it. I thought that Orthodox usually meant Eastern Orthodox. It seems to me that when differentiating Mormons from other Christians it is more precise to talk about Creedal Christians and Mormon Christians.

    2. Mormons and Christians – Making this differentiation is a serious mistake I think. Mormons are Christians after all. By using the marketing language of the folks that are not Mormon-friendly you perpetuate the false notion that Mormons are something other than Christian. (And launching that language marker is a marketing ploy to try to keep Mormons out of the “Christian Club” – especially in the minds of those that know very little about Mormonism. I think it is a cheap and dirty and uncharitable trick.)

    3. “For Christians, this term represents a woman that has not yet had sexual intercourse with anyone else from this world or any other world.”

    Ummm… That’s what it means to Mormons too. Any whispers or suspicions by Mormons that it means something else are speculative and make no sense to me. See the Book of Mormon — Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Ghost and conceived but she was a virgin.

  2. Good call, Geoff.

    Reading through this (at least slightly paternalistic and pedantic) lecture, I also couldn’t get past the irony that in telling us how to communicate with creedal Christians, David was employing a decidedly confusing term by labeling them all Orthodox Christians. In fact, I am wondering if many of the things that David ascribes to creedal Christians could even apply at all to Orthodox Christians.

  3. Guys,
    Lay off of David. He is, after all, in the midst of a group of evangelical Christians who consider his reading of Christianity most unorthodox. Perhaps it was an ill chosen term (after all, what, if anything, do American protestants know about the Orthodox movement), but nonetheless it does describe how the Protestants amongst which he finds himself see us (which was the point, wasn’t it?)

  4. What John C. said.

    My impression was that David was not saying that these were his labels or definitions. The point of the post seemed clear to me: this is the vocabulary of mainstream Christians and it is helpful for us to know where our terms may appear confusing.

    BTW, someone should get hold of Robert Millet’s Another Jesus?

  5. No need for alarm John C and Ronan – David J. is a big boy; and he’s smart too. I’m sure he can handle a someone disagreeing with his approach. I’m very certain he is capable of defending his own honor if he feels somehow offended that John F. and I have quibbles with some (not all) of his points. I know there was no offense intended.

    Ronan – I understand that creedal Christianity often likes to refer to Mormons as something other than “Christian”, but such language is biased and inaccurate and misleading and its use needs to be questioned.

  6. Put me down for LDS = non-Chalcedonian Christians. I think William F. Albright was first to express the major difference(s) that way.

  7. Perhaps this is something I should have qualified a bit further, but I thought what was posted would suffice (“for brevity’s sake”). I only used the term “Christians” for people who believe in Jesus that aren’t Mormons in this post, knowing full well that there are distinctions to be made beyond that. I’m with you guys, I just didn’t feel like qualifying the term every time I used it. Again, it was for brevity’s sake, not for any other reason. I sincerely apologize for those who got hot-headed over that. I consider myself a Christian as well, so long as that term is utterly divorced from any form of classical orthodoxy or Creed (especially Chalcedon. Nicea doesn’t bother me at all). Again, my point in stating that they’re “Christians” and that we’re “Mormons” was for brevity’s sake. It’s in the original post. But you guys still understood the gist of my post, right? If that is the case, I believe mutual understanding was achieved, which was my primary goal.

    I’ve never heard the term “Creedal Christians” from any of my peers, professors, or any other “mainstream” Christian — only from Mormons. I don’t have the means to Google the term at this time. Where did it come from?

    John C. — Right on. I continually struggle with the (humorous?) irony that Protestants consider themselves “orthodox.” Wasn’t it rather “unorthodox” for them to leave the established “orthodoxy” in the 16th century? 🙂

    Mogget — dude, you read Albright? You rock, man. He’s one of my favorite scholars.

    I’m glad some of you saw the humor in a couple of those. The Martin Luther one is my favorite. And hats off to the bloke who suggested the virgin one.

    Part 2 will be less paternalistic and pedantic I guess.

  8. I remember talking with a Pentecostal once about salvation, going in thinking that I knew exactly what he believed: Salvation by grace, right? All you have to have is a “salvation experience” and you’re set for life, right? Which opens the door to all kinds of licentiousness, right? Well, as I was talking to him, what he was describing sounded more and more like the Mormon “conversion” experience, or the “mighty change of heart” described by King Benjamin. I finally had to stop him and say, “Wait a sec, let me get this straight. Let’s say you’re “saved” by the grace of Jesus Christ and then afterwards you unrepentantly sin. Are you still saved?” He and his wife looked at each other with “Now we get it!” looks on their faces and turned back to me and said, “Oh no!”
    So, apparently, according to them, it was possible to fall from grace after all. It turned out that our concepts of salvation were more similar than we thought. Who knew?

    I’m not saying that all evangelicals see salvation this way (I’ve met others who didn’t even believe in free will!), but I’m guessing a lot more of them do than Mormons think. I love this idea of a semantic lexicon for both Mormon Christians and Mainstream/Orthodox/Chalcedonian Christians. If only we knew what the other was talking about, we could avoid so much misconception and hostility.

    (Even though, I, incidentally, have LOTS of problems with Nicea — but admittedly more operational than doctrinal — the Nicene Creed is so vague and general that NO Christian should have problems with it, as long as he has his own interpretation — isn’t that what it was designed to do?).

  9. For all their accusations that Latter-day Saints are heretics because we (according to them) don’t believe that we are saved by grace, creedal Christians are surprisingly blind to the fact that they also believe in at least one salvatory work: accepting Jesus Christ in your heart. Absent this “act” there is no salvation by grace. It is hard to see how this is different from the LDS conception that certain acts (faith, repentance, baptism, i.e. accepting Jesus Christ in our hearts, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the holy ghost) are required in order to gain access to the grace that has already saved us all–that is, to allow it to cleanse and save us since the full measure of suffering has already been experienced by the Savior anyway. For us and them, it puts the ball back into our court because Jesus’s work has already been done.

  10. Salvation without God’s grace borders on Pelagianism. St. Paul would be very upset with the notion. Good call, John.

  11. David,

    What’s so bad about Pelagianism? I didn’t think it denied grace as much as it denied Original Sin… Mormonism has always denied the Original Sin notion too.

  12. What’s so bad about Pelagianism?

    The idea that one can completely, utterly, and wholly avoid sin is thoroughly anti-Pauline, which was one of the main reasons the ancient church was so fast to classify Pelagius as a heretic. The early church pointed out that the atonement wouldn’t be universal in its application if individuals could avoid sin by their own merits. It’s explained quite well in Justo Gonzalez’s seminal work The Story of Christianity: Volume I if you’re interested in reading the details.

  13. I’ve been trying to build a bridge of conversation with my sister, a very devout Baptist (married to a pastor). These talks never worked with my parents (both also Baptists) but my sister is a little more open-minded.

    The point I was trying to make was that if I had done what she said was needed in order to be saved, was I saved, even if I was a Mormon? I think I was able to get her to eventually come around, although I had no success with my parents. She does believe that once you are saved, you cannot be un-saved, no matter how wicked you are. Her caveat (not that she would ever use such a word!) was that if they became really bad, they probably did not truly accept Christ in the first place – in other words, it was not a true conversion.

    Their (Baptists) concept of repentance is that you have to mend your relationship with God, if you want answers to your prayers. But even if you sin, you’re still saved. I guess, depending on the terminology (the whole point of the OP) you could say that we agree. “Salvation” is a gift that we all get – assuming we don’t outright refuse it. Exaltation is another matter, that most of your non-Mormon Christians don’t see.

    So, why are Baptists baptized, if all you need to do to be “Saved” is accept Christ as your savior? I had to ask. She said it is an act of devotion, to show others that you do believe.

    Incidentally, I made an offhand remark (I don’t recommend this tactic in dealing with Baptists, in general) that if they believed that nothing they could do would un-save them after once being Saved, why aren’t there more Baptist suicides? You know, as a quick route to Heaven? She laughed and said it was because they had more to do on Earth – helping others become saved and “gaining jewels for their crown in heaven.”

    David, I am sure you are going to thoroughly confuse me, but the end of your point #4 doesn’t jive with most of what I’ve heard. Isn’t E the Father and J the Son? Or are you suggesting that E is Jehovah?

    On point #3, we might think that B. pastors are the equivalent of our bishops, but I would say that in larger B. congregations, they are more like the various leadership positions – EQ president, RS president, Sunday School president, Bishop, etc.)

    One last thing, if you ever want to have fun with the Baptists, ask them where the word “rapture” occurs in the Bible.

    Search Scriptures for Rapture

  14. FHL,

    Point #4 does read a bit funny (I wrote the post while watching football last Sunday, which is VERY distracting), so let me re-phrase.

    Most (temple) Mormons think that Jehovah/Yahweh and Elohim are two different guys. This is unique in Christianity. For the ancient Israelite (post-restoration period), “Yahweh” was God’s name, and “Elohim” is what he is. The world “Elohim” would then NOT be used as a proper name, like it’s used in temples, but as a substantive — the translation for “Elohim” would be “God.” There are exceptions in the Bible to this, but they are anomalous and infrequent. By and large, whoever edited/redacted the last version of the text of the OT, wanted us to know that Yahweh is the name of the Elohim (or, in English, Jehovah is the name of God).

    So when I came to graduate school, I was somewhat surprised to learn all this, and to learn that most folks stand where the J-Dubs do — that Jesus is not Jehovah. I thought we were the norm in saying that Jesus is Jehovah, but we’re the outlaw. I’ve been trying to reconcile the two viewpoints but so far unsuccessfully. (Warning: personal opinion!) I lean towards the Biblical model myself.

    Im not sure it’s really fair to ask them to find the word rapture in the Bible. Find me the word Bible in the Bible. I hated it when people pulled that stuff on me as a missionary. However the concept is in the latter episltes and possibly the book of Revelation. People don’t just think stuff up like that, especially devout baptists (who lean toward fundamentalism) who tend to read the Bible literally. The concept is in there somewhere. It also creeped its way into one (or more?) of our hymns: Let Zion in Her Beauty Rise:

    “Let Zion in her beauty rise her light begins to shine;
    ‘Ere long her king will rend the skies majestic and divine;
    the gospel spreading through the land a people to prepare;
    to meet the Lord and Enoch’s band triumphant in the air”.

    Maybe it’s not such a shotty doctrine after all.

  15. rapture = Jdt 12:16 in the NAB, of course. Very romantic. Why do you ask?

    More seriously, the Greek verb HARPAZEIN (1 Thess 4:17b), which has a sense of violent and sudden action, to the Latin RAPTOS, which means “snatched.” The idea of a rapture also occurs at least in 4 Ezra and couple of other Jewish texts.

    I’ll also vote for explaining to the LDS that The Bible is not The KJV.

  16. I thought the term ‘virgin’ was generally (and rightly) coming to be widely understood as a person, female or male, who hadn’t had sexual relations. That’s certainly how I use the term. Do a lot of people still think of it terms of women only? I know enough of the etymology to know it started out that way and, of course, we still of the Christian parable of the 10 virgins as well as The Virgin, but it seems to me that the meaning has shifted to be more inclusive, even among Christians.

  17. Artemis,
    I believe that the reference here is to The Virgin, whom, I think, we all agree was female. There has been some speculation regarding the nature of her relationship with God (although there has been none (thank goodness) here).

  18. Sorry, John C., mind if I explore a little bit of that speculation?

    I had always thought that it just happend “magically.” *POOF* She’s pregnant! But I have heard some of this speculation (in Institute, I think!) that there was a more … standard way this occurred. Aside from the potential incestual connotation we could derive from this, maybe you could tell me what’s going on in Gen 6:4? Sons of God, daughters of men, giants. Next verse, great wickedness.

    The way I learned it from the JWs was that you basically had demons having sex with the human women, and producing atrocities. Oh, and that this was why the Flood had to happen. What is the LDS take on this? Is it possible for a spirit to get a woman pregnant?

    (apologies for the hijack – it IS somewhat related)

  19. Artemis, there’s a Ezra Benson quotation floating around out there which indicates, as FHL said, that Mary’s pregnancy was affected the same way it is done with humans. I personally disagree with ETB on this one for reasons I don’t want to list here.

  20. I did a little bit of research on the CES site for Genesis 6:4 and I would have to say that their explanation doesn’t help me a lot. They say that it refers to marrying outside of the covenant. For further help(?), it references Moses 8 : 13-16

    Here’s what I’m reading: Noah’s sons were called the Sons of God, and they had fair daughters. The sons of _men_ took them to wife “even as they chose.” (who chose?) Then, it sounds like the Lord rebukes the women “the daughters have sold themselves”, but He’s really angry at their husbands ” mine anger is kindled against the sons of men”

    So, no demon-lovin’ here. From the Genesis verse, it appears there were already giants. Also, the children produced from the Sons of God, daughters of men (It really seems like it should be daughters of God, sons of men) are men of great reknown, which were of old. Times of old? Could they SAY that there at the dawn of history? 😀

    (JP: I know exactly how you feel.)

  21. FHL,

    For all the attempts at these verses, none have really fleshed them out as well as the guys and gals involved in Near Eastern studies. I’ve read a bit on this (had a Hebrew course in Genesis), and “giants” is probably an aberration of the text or a mistranslation of some kind. There’s also the problem with the genitive “sons of” in Hebrew–which doesn’t always connote a birth experience (Heb. ben). It can simply mean some form of discipleship or allegiance without having been “born of” another.

    Even the pseudepigraphic authors had a hay-day with these verses. Cf. Steve Delamarter’s Scriptural Index to Charlesworth’s OTP for the numerous references in that literary corpora on this subject.

  22. FHL,

    Those “sons of God marrying the daughters of men” (or vice-versa) scriptures have never really been explained to us by ancient or modern prophets. That means there are various theories floating around but no solid consensus.

    (My personal preference – at least this week – is the idea that the descendents of Adam and Eve mixed with people that were already here.)

  23. the idea that the descendents of Adam and Eve mixed with people that were already here

    Geoff, you crack me up, man. If nothing works, just make something up! 😉

  24. Actually, that interpretation is pretty common in religious circles. I have had religious accedemics of a few stripes (especially Roman Catholic) give those verses the same interpretation.

  25. Yeah, I’ve read that before too, I was just joshing with Geoff (say that really fast five times!). The targumic literature has some wacky takes on those verses too — I honestly think a lot of the rabbis wrote facetiously on purpose. Very humorous stuff in there.

  26. The use BENE ELOHIM (sons of the gods) in the OT fall into three pretty well delineated categories:

    1) divine beings or angels (Gen 6:1-4; Job 1:6, 2:1; Ps 89:6),

    2) Israelites or Israel as group,

    3) and as an individual, only to the king (Ps 2:7b; LXX Ps 109:3).

    First, the use of BEN (son) is a Semitic construct which indicates membership in a group or class. Sons of the gods means beings belonging to the heavenly sphere, as opposed to the “daughters of men,” which would be mortal women. See also Ps 82:6-7, where a distinction is likewise made between immortal and mortal. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single instance in which covental status is distinguished by ELOHIM and ‘ISH (man) in the construct state. But perhaps there are others more familiar with the OT than I.

  27. Two more thoughts on Gen 6:1-4. First, from an etiological perspective, this short narrative does three things:

    1) It continues the ordering of the cosmos, an important function of Israel’s primeval narratives.

    2) It establishes, along with Gen 3:22, the mortality of humans and explains why few people live longer than 120 years.

    3)It explains the origins of the “men of reknown,” who show up later, mainly in order to die.

    In my thought, the real non-sequitar is the reaction of YHWH in v.3. The human figures are depicted as passive; the divine as those retaining the initiative.

    Where’s the morality in this story?

    Do OT stories always have “a moral?”

  28. Mogget,

    Your knowledge of Hebrew is indeed rare among us. Welcome, initiate.

    Do OT stories always have “a moral?”

    I would argue that they do, but they’re usually not in some nice little single verse package at the end of the book or section (sometimes they are though, like Qohelet or Jonah/Nahum). Mormons love it when scripture does this — Moses 1:39 is classic (why doesn’t anyone ever dwell on 1:38 — it’s HUGE!). For the book of Genesis, the author(s) obviously wanted us to focus on Joseph, given how much of the book is Joseph material. There are only two people in the entire OT who never have a single negative thing said of them: Joseph and Daniel. The others all show flaws–whether weakness, faithlessness, sin, etc. Anyway, the amount of attention given to the Joseph cycle (or narrative) tells us that one ought to see Joseph as the paradigm for righteous living. Even in Genesis 50, when his brothers try to misquote their father in order to doop Joseph (again!), he still shows compassion on them. It blows me away. So for the book as a whole, I think Joseph is the “moral,” except in this case it’s not some fancy wisdom saying like a Proverb or what have you, but rather the example of stalwart Joseph as it’s spread throughout a dozen chapters or so.

    As far as the moral problem for the bene ‘elohim, I would see it as a lesson in theodicy and justice; i.e., “don’t mingle with bad people.” Who knows.

    And Mogget, you’re right on the Heb. term “ben.” I verified this in the TDOT just now and your stratification of the term aligns with theirs, FWIW. That’s what I was getting at in my post above — “ben” doesn’t always connote a “by birth” relationship.

  29. David J,

    You are considerably too kind. As it happens, I too know where the TDOT is. It’s on the shelf under Hatch Redpath, next aisle over from TDNT, and around the corrner from the ABD…

  30. Ah, well mine is right behind me on the bookshelf. I’m missing volumes 6 and 8, however. Our library has two sets (on different floors, conveniently), but I rarely use them in exegesis anymore. Word studies don’t do it for me. I should say — I use them as a last resort. James Barr’s book Semantics of Biblical Language was one of those watershed books for me that got me wondering just how effective (or defective) they are.

  31. “James Barr’s book Semantics of Biblical Language was one of those watershed books for me”
    Yes, but how far should you allow the opinions of a determined iconoclast to affect your own?

  32. Yes, but how far should you allow the opinions of a determined iconoclast to affect your own?

    In the case of Jesus or Joseph Smith, very much so.

    James Barr’s book is so well done and so convincing (to me) that it made word-studies somewhat passe. Again, I still do them when the occasion merits from it (which is rare, but not non-existent). Kittel’s TDNT was his main target, and indeed TDNT does possess many fundamental flaws (look up “baptism” to see what I mean), but I still own it because there is a lot of good research in it (albeit somewhat outdated). In fact, right now you can get it from for $100, which is $600 less than retail. So I recommend anyone who has had Greek to pick it up. One just needs to be a bit judicial whan utilizing TDNT instead of relying solely upon its claims. TDOT, as you probably know, was written after Barr’s book, which changed how “theological dictionaries” are done, and therefore TDOT avoided many of the pitfalls that TDNT possessed. Even the seminal DOTTE acknowledges Barr’s valuable findings in its introduction. If you haven’t given Barr a careful read, I recommend it. John, I assume you read it, and in which case, you’re the first I’ve ever met (out of dozens) who hasn’t rejoiced in how liberating it is. But that’s fine, as word-studies are still popular and heavily used among many universities and traditions. And there are other works that shadow his book, like D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies and Cotterell & Turner’s Linguistics and Biblical Interpretation which are also worthy of consideration, although those books present Barr’s fundamental reasonings within a more limited scope. Carson even employs some of the fallacies he notes in order to reach some of his conclusions, which is both sad and ironic, but overall it is a great resource.

    But whatever. I mean, if a word study puts someone on their knees and helps them revere God and his word, then I’m all for it. But personally, I take caution before I use one in my research.

  33. Hm, yes. I never use the TDNT, much to the surpise of my OT brethren, who do usually consult the TDOT at some point. I have a copy of C&T’s little manual on linguistics around here, as well, and found it to be a very insightful in many regards. I quite enjoyed Meir Sternberg, as well, but that’ s a different category.

    As for the Joseph cycle — yes, it’s long and so of first rank. But within the primeval history, that little story of the sons of the gods seems quite unique to me, neither fowl nor fish, so to speak. I’ve never managed to connect it to a longer thread. It looks like the total absence of theodicy, like YHWH at his arbitrary best.

    And we have totally hijacked this thread, eh?

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