Interfaith Relations
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  Presbyterians and Latter-day Saints

Presbyterians in many parts of the United States live in close proximity with Mormon neighbors. Historically, these contacts with one another have often involved mutual difficulties. Today Presbyterians are challenged to apply the learnings we are gaining about interfaith relations to our relationships with Latter-day Saints.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, like the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), declares allegiance to Jesus. Latter-day Saints and Presbyterians share use of the Bible as scripture, and members of both churches use common theological terms. Nevertheless, Mormonism is a new and emerging religious tradition distinct from the historic apostolic tradition of the Christian Church, of which Presbyterians are a part.

Latter-day Saints understand themselves to be separate from the continuous witness to Jesus Christ, from the apostles to the present, affirmed by churches of the "catholic" tradition.

Latter-day Saints and the historic churches view the canon of scriptures and interpret shared scriptures in radically different ways. They use the same words with dissimilar meanings. When the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks of the Trinity, Christ's death and resurrection, and salvation, the theology and practices related to these set it apart from the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant churches.

It is the practice of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to receive on profession of faith those coming directly from a Mormon background and to administer baptism. Presbyterians do not invite officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to administer the Lord's Supper.

Revelation

The Reformed tradition believes that the canon of scripture is closed and the Bible is complete, although the Holy Spirit continues to lead the Church into deeper understandings of God's revelation. Reformed Christians test new understandings against the content of the central revelatory events recorded in the Bible. Latter-day Saints speak of receiving new revelations. Revelatory events not found in the Old and New Testaments are recounted in additional Mormon scriptures.

God

The historic apostolic creeds of the church remind Christians how difficult it is to speak about God. Reformed Christians have described the person of God as invisible, without body or passions. God's otherness is overcome in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Mormon teachings speak about God in literally anthropomorphic terms. Latter-day Saints understand that all souls live a premortal life as spirit children of Heavenly Father and say that humans may become gods, "as God is." They define themselves as monotheists since they give allegiance only to Heavenly Father, creator and ruler of this world.

Salvation

For Latter-day Saints, salvation through Christ's atonement is a first step toward sanctification and exaltation — an eternal progression that is in the hand of each person and family — thus explaining the special importance of obedient living, marriage, or baptism for the dead. The Reformed tradition understands both the initiative and completion of the plan of salvation to rest on God's grace. Nothing is required but acceptance of God in Christ, from which a life of gratitude flows.

The 199th General Assembly (1987) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) provided general suggestions concerning newer religious traditions that profess allegiance to Jesus. The 207th General Assembly (1995) offered specific guidelines for interfaith relationships with Mormons.

Support the search to promote understanding.

  • Learn about the cross-cultural context in which Presbyterians living in areas of significant Mormon concentration carry out the apostolic ministry of the church.
  • Study the historical experience of Mormons that has contributed to their present forms of social cohesion.
  • Seek firm grounding in your own understanding of revelation.
  • Use educational materials prepared for pastors and church officers.
  • In predominantly Mormon areas, help new members of Presbyterian churches to learn about the historic apostolic tradition of the Christian church.

Support the search for cooperation.

  • Seek opportunities to work on common concerns in society together with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Mormon people.
  • Identify common interests and converging moral imperatives for the good of the larger community. These do not require full agreement about beliefs or practices.
  • Work to develop friendly relations built on mutual respect and understanding.
  • Respond to invitations to Latter-day Saints' activities (e.g., Boy Scouts, Mutual Improvement Association, athletic events) in a manner appropriate to their interfaith context.
  • Use guidelines for interfaith celebration and worship where appropriate, including when interfaith families request Presbyterian participation in weddings and funerals.

Support the search for witness.

  • Exercise special pastoral sensitivity at funerals and memorial services involving interreligious families.
  • As you joyously witness to the good news of Jesus Christ among all people, feel free to share the gospel with persons of Mormon background. Witness is dialogical, both speaking and listening with an attitude of openness and respect.
  • Do not use conflict to manipulate persons to change their religious community.
  • Witness to your own faith rather than speaking against the other.
  • Resist the temptation to respond with fear or hostility if you are confronted with proselytizing efforts.

Presbyterian relationships with Latter-day Saints have changed throughout the twentieth century. By God's grace they may change further.

See General Assembly actions on which this content is based: Nature of Revelation 1987; Guidelines 1995. Use Presbyterians and Mormons: A Study in Contrasts and a Resource Packet for study and guidance.

Resources

Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Resource Packet on Presbyterians and Latter-day Saints. Available 1998. PDS #74-292-98-001.

Presbytery of Utah. A Present Day Look at the Latter-day Saints. Published by Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 1990. PDS #OGA 90-003.

Robinson, Stephen E. Are Mormons Christians? Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1991.

Shipps, Jan. Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition. University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 1985.

Theology and Worship Unit, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Presbyterians and Mormons: A Study in Contrasts. 1990. See this material for the full text adopted for guidance by the 207th General Assembly (1995), with study guide and bibliography. PDS #273-90-001.

World Council of Churches. Guidelines on Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies, revised 1993, Geneva. ISBN 2-8254-0607-4. This brochure describes relationships with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah. Contact the church for its materials.

"... Mormonism differs from traditional Christianity in much the same fashion that traditional Christianity ... came to differ from Judaism."

Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition

"This study is not about the faith of individual Mormons or about the ability of Mormonism to generate faith .....

"..... theology, history, and religious practices are legitimate topics for interfaith discussions and evaluations. Each of these comes second ... as an expression and implication of faith.

— Presbyterians and Mormons: A Study in Contrasts Study Guide

"... self-serving descriptions of other peoples' faith are one of the roots of prejudice, stereotyping, and condescension. Listening carefully to the neighbors' self-understanding enables Christians better to obey the commandment not to bear false witness against their neighbors ...

"... any religion or ideology claiming universality ... will also have its own interpretations of other religions and ideologies as part of its own self-understanding. Dialogue gives an opportunity for a mutual questioning of the understanding partners have about themselves and others."

— Guidelines on Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologie

 
             
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