Westminster Seminary California
 
 
Christianity: Did the Tent Just Get Bigger?
VFT

How do you define the Christian faith? For nearly two millennia (ok, closer to 1800 years, but then I'm horrible at math) the post-apostolic church has defined the Christian faith by a series of doctrinal beliefs which were set down in the famous Apostles' Creed. It was so named, not because the apostles wrote it but because it summarized their teaching. Subsequent to this were the ecumenical councils such as Nicaea and Chalcedon that defined both the doctrines of Christ and the Trinity, particularly defending the full humanity and deity of the second person of the Trinity. Jesus is God of God, Light of Light, and is of the same substance as the Father. He is, as the Reformed tradition has historically taught, a se, or from himself; that is, he is fully God.

These days, however, it seems that people want to define Christianity, not by what the church has objectively believed but rather by sociological categories as well as self-identification. Take, for instance, a recent poll that was conducted about the most "Christian states." You can find the story here. When I first read this article I was surprised by the statement that Utah was the most Christian state. I don't have anything against Utah, but my first guess would have been a state from the Midwest or perhaps the South. But Utah? 

But then my eyes caught it . . . a tiny little asterisk by the term Christian. I scanned down to the bottom of the article and found the following: "Christians include Mormons and Unitarians / Universalists who self-identify as Christians." Well, you don't say? Mormons and Universalists deny the doctrines of the Trinity and the deity Christ. And for the latter, in the 17th century Unitarians were typically identified as Socinians, the followers of Faustus Socinus as well as adherents to the Racovian Catechism (1609). Today, Unitarians are called Christians but in the 17th century they were called heretics.

Now some might think that we should move beyond such name-calling and divisive behavior. Heretics, really? But on the other hand, if we want to judge the Christian faith by the standard by which we determine everything else in life, then yes, we should use the term heretic. Why? How? If I were to claim that I was in the NFL and played quarterback, people would assume that I played for one of the 32 teams, that I had the build of an athelete rather than a fire-plug, and that I could throw a football quite well (unless, of course, you run the Wildcat offense). But what if we decided to determine my status, not by objective criteria but by my own self-identification? I may not play for the NFL but if I think I do, that's all that really matters. I may not be a medical doctor, but so long as I think I am, that's all that matters. I may not be a scientist, but as long as I identify myself as such (perhaps have a few beakers around), then I am.

The absurdity of such claims is immediately apparent, so why, when pollsters, sociologists, or media wonks, label Mormons and Unitarians as Christians do people accept it? Forget whether you're a Christian or not, such a practice should be troubling to anyone and everyone. 

But there is a far more insidious danger that lurks in such polls. Namely, the threat that Christians will begin to think with their feelings rather than their minds and embrace Mormons and Unitarians as Christians out of a desire not to offend them. Pretty soon, heresy becomes the new orthodoxy and orthodoxy becomes the new heresy; that is, if you insist upon the deity of Christ you become the intolerant, arrogant, speculative, divisive, theological bigot.

The only solution to this trend is to continue to profess the faith that was once delievered. Jesus is fully God, not because the ancient church councils say so, as true as their declarations are, but because of what Scripture objectively teaches. The opening of the Gospel of John (1:1ff), Christ's own use of the divine name for himelf (e.g., John 8:56), or Paul's identification of Christ as God (Rom. 9:5) objectively teach that Jesus is God. To label Mormonism and Unitarianism as heresy isn't cruel or mean-spirited but rather is to side with the Scriptures and indeed, all of Western Christendom. The most loving thing we can do is, in all humility, tell Mormons and Unitarians of their need for Christ, of their need to believe in and worship the one true God as he has been revealed and incarnate in Jesus Christ.