Another reprint from Mormon Matters.
One stumbling block to communication between Mormons and other types of Christians is our use of the word “church” — sometimes at least — as a synonym for “religion.” The word “church,” as used in the New Testament, meant an assembly or congregation. (Presumably the entire body of believers in Jesus in the case of the New Testament.) Modernly the word “church” has also come to mean the building that congregation meets in, as well as the specific denomination that congregation is aligned with. By comparison, the word “religion” usually refers to a set of beliefs about the nature of the universe. Even an atheist is a religion in this sense. Mormons sometimes use “church” and “religion” more or less interchangeably because of our belief in a restoration of a set of beliefs simultaneously with a restoration of authority.
As a Baptist once told me: “It’s the utmost of arrogance that Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons think they are the only true Church! As a Baptist I don’t believe we’re the only true Church!”
I’ve heard many Mormons opine that such a statement can’t be true. Do they really think there are several different sets of religious beliefs that get one to heaven?
A while back I came across a newspaper article that helped bridge the communication gap here. It explained that when the Baptist Church (I believe Southern Baptist) moves into a new area they calculate the number of “saved” in the area so that they know how much work they have to do. This calculation is made by breaking the population of the geographic area down by religious demographics and then applying a secret estimate for each sect/denomination of the number of “saved.”
While these estimates are, for obvious reasons, held secret, it’s easy to imagine that it might work something like this: Catholics: 15%, Mormons: 0.1%, Methodists: 80%, Lutheran: 90%
What the Baptists are measuring is how far away from their own beliefs (i.e. religion) other denominations are. Catholics may well be saved Christians if they, for example, don’t pray to Mary and believe they are saved through grace rather than through their sacraments. The secret estimate they apply would be their estimate of the number of Catholics that are far enough away from the Catholic belief system to qualify for salvation as per the Baptist belief system.
An entertaining example of this is in the Left Behind series where the Pope is taken to heaven during the rapture, but later in the series the reader finds out that this fictional Pope had caused a huge stir in the Catholic Church by encouraging doctrinal changes that matched the beliefs of the great reformers. One Catholic reviewer noted that the author believed you can be saved as a Catholic as long as you believe the same as a Protestant.
So while Baptists do not believe they are the only Church (i.e. denomination) that has saved people, they certainly believe their core belief system (i.e. religion) is the one true belief system.
This suggests an interesting question: Considering our universalist-leaning belief system — i.e. all religions can go the the Terrestrial (2nd) Kingdom, which is more or less synonymous with the Baptist view of heaven — from a Baptist point of view, do Mormons believe they are the only true religion/church?
Another question: Considering that sometimes Mormons use “church” and “religion” as synonyms, from a Mormon point of view do Baptists believe they are the only true “church?”