A Baptist Point of View of Being the One True “Church”

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?”

16 thoughts on “A Baptist Point of View of Being the One True “Church”

  1. You make some really good points here, Bruce. I especially like the “Left Behind” example!! 🙂
    I had a lot of problems with this issue while serving my mission, and in subsequent religious discussions. I admit that I have often thought along the lines of what you describe in the beginning, that these people must believe that there are many different roads that lead to the same Heaven. I just couldn’t get my head around that and would argue with people based on that assumption, as you’ve described!
    You have opened my eyes to a new understanding with your explanation. It’s not that they don’t believe that they are on the one right path, its just that the similarities between the doctrines of Protestant churches today are such that they see most other similar Protestant churches as being on that same path. This is interesting because I don’t think that would have been so much the case 50, 100, or 200 years ago. There is a lot more ecumenism prevailing today, especially among protestant denominations. I think it’s interesting that even the Community of Christ church is now accepting into their membership those who have been baptized in other churches.
    While it seems clear that they see themselves as belonging to the one true religion, perhaps they would also see themselves as belonging to the one true church — but I think they would see that as the one over-arching Church/Body of Christ, which subsumes the various “orthodox” denominations, and includes all individuals who are true “believers”.

  2. The merits and semantics of the claim that there is only one true church aside, there isn’t a shortage of fundamentalist Protestants who claim that all Mormons are going to hell – apparently on the basis that we believe in a “different” Jesus. That is when they cool down from believing that all Catholics and Arminians are.

  3. The easiest and least contentious way to deal with this is to say: we believe nearly all good people will be “saved.” There is a difference between being saved and being exalted.

  4. Geoff, I really could have used that simple answer about 100 times on my mission. Where were you and why wasn’t I smart enough to think of something as simple and true as that?

  5. Really. I know it may have come off as a glib comment, but you wouldn’t believe how many Baptists I offended telling them the Joseph Smith story, then answering their queries that yes we believed we were the only true church and the way to the Celestial Kingdom.

    Of course now I realize I probably said heaven, and they probably heard “saved”. One simple phrase would have lowered the tension for many of those people, letting them know I wasn’t discounting what they felt when they received Jesus and were saved.

    I know I wasn’t the best missionary, I also know for a fact that I wasn’t the only one in the middle of Australia that could have phrased things better, but just couldn’t find the words. So many problems from simply not having a Baptist to Mormon translation guide (only knowing one Baptist growing up probably didn’t help either).

  6. Amen, jjohnsen. Now that I have Catholic in-laws, I get a lot of valuable practice in building on common beliefs and sharing Gospel concepts and principles without offending. I would make a much better missionary today than I did on my mission.

  7. I think Mormons are the only universalists in the world that try to hide the fact that they are.

  8. On our blog we have people say things like “you think you are so right.” Well yeah! Do you believe things things that are not truth, or that you don’t think are right? Does that make any sense? Mormon’s seek to “hold fast to that which is true,” but I didn’t think that is what was supposed to be the reason we are considered a “peculiar people?”

    I served my mission in the Louisiana which had it’s share of baptists and catholics (along with a host of others). I was always interested to see this mentality prevail to those we proselyted to: “I may not be right, but I know you are wrong.”

    Interesting how the adversary has the ability to curtail our dedication to anything let alone the gospel of Christ.

  9. Most of my family on both sides have Baptist roots, and from what I’ve encountered, Baptists, particularly southern Baptists do consider themselves to be a part of the “true Church” and they often claim that they worship “the real Jesus,” and that anything (what they consider) less than that isn’t going to save you. I believe that they think that they are the only “true” church because they’re traditionalists. I notice whenever I visit one of my family members’ churches that most of what they believe to be true about other religions are often stereotypes that have been passed down from the leadership often stemming from one bad experience, or conducting a litmus test of that other religion in comparison with what they view as a static and inerrant Bible.
    So, they believe they are the one true church in terms of tradition, rigidity, and have no sense of evolution either ecclesiastically or theologically. It’s a wonder many people who either research Mormonism or investigate it have a problem with the concept of the three kingdoms of glory, or, as one pastor put it, and I’m paraphrasing because I just can’t find that dang article, a problem with the possibility of sharing the same heaven with people of other faiths, beliefs. A perfect example are those wing-nut Westboro people. Imagine their surprise to be in one of the three kingdoms with the same Muslim person they spat on, ridiculed and condemned to hell. Or that child whose funeral they picketed. Surprise, surprise, surprise!
    For us Mormons, I think that when we say “true church” I think we mean that we’ve reached some kind of end some kind of pique in our search for spiritual truth and guidance. Some might say it out of arrogance, but when I say it, I mean that it’s the true church to me personally because it has taken me out of myself, taken me to another dimension of my faith and understanding of who and what God is in my life. I truly believe that it is the restored church because it’s unlocked those doors that for centuries have been closed to our spiritual consciousness. I think Mormonism is evolving, and to the better, I venture to say, and I think that’s where the clash between Mormonism and Protestantism begins. The evolution, continuing revelation and understanding of what most Protestants view as fixed theological traditions and truths.

  10. I believe it is true that all good people will eventually be saved, and that the plan of salvation wouldn’t be good for much if they weren’t. But that doesn’t mean that many people won’t go through hell in the process, some due to their own weaknesses and some due to the weaknesses of others.

    So I am all for saying we are universalist, as long as one doesn’t give the impression that we believe you can sin without serious consequences. Eat drink and be merry, lie a little, cheat a little, for tomorrow we die, and at the last day we shall be beaten with a few stripes and be saved in the kingdom of God.

    Isn’t that the cardinal heresy of the age? And more especially in its populist Protestant form (“eternal security”)?

  11. I am amazed that the Mormon form of ‘universalism’ (semi-universalism?) navigates right between justice and mercy such that you have both simultaneously.

    I’m going to venture a guess that the fact that other religions don’t have something equivalent means humans have a hard time coming up with such a notion.

  12. I am amazed that the Mormon form of ‘universalism’ (semi-universalism?) navigates right between justice and mercy such that you have both simultaneously.

    I’m going to venture a guess that the fact that other religions don’t have something equivalent means humans have a hard time coming up with such a notion.

    I have been thinking a lot the past few years about how truth seems to be found in the tension so often. Justice and mercy / grace and works is a perfect example.

    It’s one reason why I think the gift of the Holy Ghost is so critical in our doctrine, and really ends up being another way that we are unique, I think.

    I have to say that I’m still sort of chuckling at your comment about Mormons being universalists…how you phrased it sort of tickled my funny bone.

    But I also agree with Mark that we also have some of that binary realization in our doctrine — there’s gonna be hell along the way toward acquiring a degree of glory. But I still end up being so amazed at the mercy and wonder of a plan that lets even the vilest of sinners end up getting a degree of glory.

    (How much do people really that about our doctrine?)

  13. Uh, that last line should have read “How much do people really know that about our doctrine?”

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