In the Presidential election cycle just past, the Republicans were represented by a Mormon and a Catholic. Wow! Suddenly, among devout Protestants and Evangelicals, it was ‘Game On!’ The legitimacy of their denominational affiliation became interesting fodder for discussion and debate among those of us of a different persuasion. No argument that both were fine, upstanding men. But, were Mormons and Catholics true Christians or not? A significant number of Protestants and Evangelicals railed against their doctrines; some even dubbing them as no more than cults or false religions. I suppose the question of the day would have to be, “Did they have a valid argument, or not?”
Perhaps a little history lesson is in order. It should be noted that the early church came into existence during the Roman Empire and consisted entirely of Jewish followers of Christ, who were “all with one accord (Acts 2:1 NKJV)”. And rightfully so! Jesus was born a Jew, the early church was Jewish, and the New Testament was written entirely by Jews in Hebrew, the language of Jews. But, then the great apostle Paul threw a wrench into the exclusivity of this movement by offering this new Jewish religion to Gentiles—outsiders. And, since this new ‘early church’ was now considered as broad based or universal, it eventually became known as catholic, which means all-inclusive; thus the Roman Catholic Church.
During the second century A.D., the Church of England grew out of that early Christian movement and eventually, under papal authority, drifted more and more toward salvation being based on the ritual of Sacraments. During the 16th century, Martin Luther brought about a revolution against the vaunted Church of England, avowing that their practice of ‘good works’ had nothing to do with the salvation process. John Calvin soon followed, asserting that Christianity was strictly by predestination. Followers of Luther obviously became known as Lutherans and followers of Calvin as Calvinists. Then In the 18th century, John and Charles Wesley, also Christian zealots, couldn’t swallow Calvin’s doctrine of predestination, so they began a systematic method of taking the gospel of salvation to ‘whosoever will’, throughout the world.
The early 19th century saw yet another religious movement called the ‘restoration of the church of Christ’. The movement was brought about by a group who wanted to return the ‘church’ to its primitive roots. In 1830, Joseph Smith, Jr. (considered by many as the first latter day saint) vowed that he had received a vision from God. In that vision he said that he received a blueprint of how the early church would be if translated into today’s world. He subsequently introduced that blueprint in his Book of Mormon; not meant to be in opposition to the Bible, but as an addition to it. Nevertheless, that ‘restored’ church grew rapidly until Joseph Smith was killed in 1844. After his death, the so-called ‘restored church of Christ’ splintered. Three major factions sprung up from that division: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the mystical Free Masons, and the present day Church of Christ—all very different from one another.
Since then, uncounted scores of new denominations have sprung up, all flying under the Christian flag. I’m reminded of a line in the song, ‘High Hopes’ in which the ant says, ‘Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant’. Can they all be right while being so different? Even though many of today’s myriad of denominations might seem flawed to those of us of different persuasions, we might do well to ask if they are they fatal flaws. The litmus test is found in Acts 16:30-31 where the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” to which they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household (Acts 16:30-31 paraphrased)”. (It should be noted here that ‘believe’ in this Scripture is further defined in the Amplified Bible as: to trust in, rely on, and adhere to.) Then, in Ephesians 2:8:9 we learn that salvation cannot be earned; it is a precious ‘GIFT’ from our loving God to all who trust in, rely on, and adhere to His Son, Jesus the Christ. In spite of all these varied sincere denominations, those four basic verses define the only way (John 14:6) to eternal salvation. Thus, according to the Scriptures, if those basic truths are not at the core of their doctrines and beliefs, then yes, they are fatal flaws. In Galatians 1:8, Paul said, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”